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A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India Paperback – March, 1993


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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

An intriguing if cursory chronicle of a visit among the caste- free tribes of central India--some of whom still hunt with bows and arrows and sacrifice animals to their earth goddess--by the well- traveled British author of numerous histories (The Missionaries, 1988, etc.) and novels (Within the Labyrinth, 1986, etc.). Lewis's fascination with primitive cultures threatened by ``progress'' began while he was reporting on native civilizations in Indochina and Burma. Here, his interest leads him to India's ancient tribal colonies, whose integrity has been preserved since before the Aryan invasion and whose population now equals seven percent of the nation's total. Returning to India with a certain wariness (his first visit, in 1950, left him with highly unpleasant memories), Lewis drifts through parts of the violence-torn country that few tourists ever see--from shabby Bihar in northwestern India, where recent caste wars have dominated the news, through poverty-ridden Calcutta, to the mountains of Orissa, home of the largest tribal population in the world. Led by a young, romantic Brahmin guide, Lewis infiltrates mountain communities whose ancestry may be traceable to the Aborigines of Australia or to prehistoric Asia. Dispensing candies to polite villagers, he contrasts the preening, self-assured behavior of the tribal females, who are sold to their husbands and are therefore a valuable family asset, to the general invisibility of modern India's downtrodden Hindi women, who continue to suffer as child brides, victims of dowry murders, and, in some areas, from ritual suicide. But Lewis's eye for captivating eccentricity--Koya men's preference for older, dominant wives; Bonda women's traditional nakedness, except for elaborate jewelry, and the men's casual willingness to murder whoever crosses them; and the Kondhs' belief in encouraging promiscuity among their adolescents--makes the brevity of his observations all the more frustrating. An absorbing introduction. One wishes for more. (Illustrations--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co (P) (March 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805026665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805026665
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,094,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on February 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
The population of India is approaching 1 billion. Of that enormous number over 50 million are tribal people.
In the big cities modernity has made a considerable impact, the further you get away from the city though the less modern the world seems, and in the mountain regions the tribes live much the same way they have for thousands of years.
Norman Lewis begins his journey in the city of Patna, which is in the Bihar region of central India. From there he begins to travel further and further away from the densely populated centers. In the rural lands of Bihar the age old caste system which keeps every person in their place selfishly allocating privilege and profit only to the upper castes has begun to meet with a significant challenge from the lower castes who have recently begun to violently assert themselves. Traditional government as well as the police force in this region and in many others is corrupt and people have taken the law into their own hands. Women , especially lower caste women, are especially vulnerable in these conditions and are treated like property or in some cases worse. In India a female child is less valued than a male child because female children must be married off in expensive wedding ceremonies and provided with dowries. Arranged marriage is still the rule in many places and atrocities committed against women, including infanticide, enslavement, and murder, are so often in the newspapers that they are treated like commonplace occurrences, the police rarely interefere or are simply bought off by the highest bidder. It is not surprising that given these dire realities Lewis heads for the hills and mountain regions of Orissa to search for the unspoilt tribes. Lewis takes Ranjan as a guide. Ranjan, a Brahmin, shares Lewis' interest in primitive peoples.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dan Harper on April 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
Norman Lewis, the doyen of travel writers, deliberately strays from the beaten path in modern India in order to discover what is left of the indigenous tribal communities - the ones overlooked by the same crass commercialism which is gathering up the rest of the undeveloped world into the same dustbin. His excursions into the backwoods of provincial India are part of an overriding quest, no less quixotic, for the remains of so-called primitive societies still clinging to their unique claims on a piece of land, a language, or a ritual tradition that has been theirs for as long as human memory can recall. His writing is scintillating, his tone elegiac. A Goddess in the Stones is yet another installment in Lewis's reclamation of the world from the heedless destruction of modernity.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Chinmay Hota on February 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
In travel writing, Norman Lewis ranks with the best in the trade, such as V.S.Naipaul, Paul Theroux, William Dalrymple and Pico Iyer. But what sets him apart is his choice of extraordinary destinations and his eye for spotting the abiding elements of a culture. He has produced from the much-acclaimed Dragon Apparent and Golden Earth. His desire of chronicling aspects of a society that are exposed to peril brought him to India in 1990. Here, he records the dangerous but less spectacular process of erosion : relentless clearing of jungles endangering the lifeways of the tribals. Despite his initial plans to limit his journey into the heart of tribal India, what he actually covers is a microcosm of India. We have the crowded, foggy and boisterous Bihar representing the North, a sedate coastal Orissa typifying the East; and Srikakulam, with its flashy restaurants and film-dominated atmosphere, exemplifying the South. India's over-populated and muddling metropolises are hurriedly sketched with the author's brief stopover in Calcutta. The ubiquitous old monuments and highway dhabas round off a picture of the vibrant heterogeneity that is India.
Lewis starts his journey in the `badlands' of Bihar and comes face to face with the howling moral void that characterizes the state. The messy streets of Patna, the dark underbelly of Bhagalpur, the ongoing communal killings, `the likelihood of criminal takeover of the democratic process' : all these make a mockery of the description of the state by the Department of Tourism as the `Land of Ancient Wisdom'.
From the stifling atmospheres of Patna and Calcutta, the `yellow refulgence of sand', the `green and pleasant fields' of Orissa bring a welcome relief.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lynne Kitchen on July 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
The only thing that kept me from giving this book five stars was the consistently sneering undertone the author has in his attitude toward the Indian people. It's as if he were looking at a menagerie of quaint animals, definitely lesser mortals, himself a cut above. The Raj has left its mark! The British felt superior back then and apparently still do, if he's any representative.

Aside from that, the book was extremely well written (the complexity of Lewis' sentence structure is a pleasure to read!) and interesting from beginning to end. It made me long even more to visit India, despite the dangers he describes, and at the same time all the more grateful to be living in the U.S.; we have our share of problems, but one thing we have that seems impossible there is the hope of change. They have the momentum of thousands of years!

I would definitely recommend reading this book to anyone interested in the customs and incredibly diverse ways Indian people live. This account covers Lewis' jorney through only a small segment of the country and is so absorbing that the reader wishes there were many more volumes.
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