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An Outline of the Republic: A Novel Hardcover – April 12, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060501553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060501556
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,884,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The pursuit of a mysterious story transforms an Indian reporter in Deb's ambitious second novel (after The Point of Return), vividly capturing the unrest and political infighting that underlies daily life in much of India. Amrit Singh is the bored, disillusioned Sikh protagonist who grinds through his days working for a Calcutta daily until he is jolted from his ennui by an assignment to cover the murder of a woman taken hostage and apparently shot and killed by an insurgent group. A photo of the woman haunts Amrit as he travels toward the Burmese border. At first she is identified as a porn star who was killed to set a moral example, but as Amrit makes his way through a labyrinth of politicos, military figures and shady allies, he learns that the woman, named Leela, was working with a prominent local leader on an optimistic renewal enterprise called the Prosperity Project. The climax is a mixed bag--the fate of Malik, the organizer of the Prosperity Project, who was temporarily able to do business with the insurgents, makes for an intriguing twist--but the final chapters outlining Amrit's efforts to interview Leela are a serious letdown. Still, Deb's intelligent writing and cool, observational tone distinguish this look at the curious mixture of danger, hope and boredom endemic to India's remote provinces.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The border between India and Burma is the site of rampant violence, terrorism, and corruption as rival ethnic groups fight for territory. Amrit Singh, a Sikh without a turban and a Calcutta journalist without conviction, is sent there by the Sentinel, but he has his own assignment in mind. He is obsessed with a young woman in a photograph who is being held captive by two machine-gun-wielding insurgents; however, his search for her is stymied by army searches, insurgent actions, and a landslide. Strangers appear and tell him complicated stories, and nothing is what it seems in this atmospheric tale of fear and cynicism trumping good intentions. This is Graham Greene territory (Greene even appears in a curious flashback cameo), and Deb, whose first novel, The Point of Return (2003), met with much acclaim, writes as dramatically and astutely of the state of ambivalence as he does about his volatile homeland, which serves here as a microcosm for the world's many besieged places where, as Amrit muses, "illusions mask an unbearable reality." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bluwhisper on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I actually struggled to finish Outline, and for a novel with such great potential, I was disappointed.

The premise seemed good. A journalist finds a mysterious picture of a porn star about to be executed by a paramilitary group and wagers his career to figure out the story behind it. As he travels through remote territory in northeast India, a picturesque region beset by spasms of violence, he discovers a web of corruption and lies. This story held my interest, and my desire to learn about the political situation in that region (albeit in a fictionalized way) were what kept me reading.

But I think Deb made a few mistakes. The first is his prose style. When he writes a vivid scene, he does well with it. However, most of the book is summary. Summary of conversations, scenery, bus rides, historical background. And it gets dull. Perhaps Deb's strength as a journalist is his weakness as a novelist. It's not that these sections are bad, it's simply that they could so easily be made better. The tone of his prose also seems very detached and reporterly, which quite frankly is unengaging. He also lacks a novelist's knack for memorable characterization, and as a result his characters blend together. Another problem is the protagonist, Amrit Singh, who is passive, detached, disillusioned, and depressed. He's just not that interesting of a guy, and the reason he's not interesting is because he doesn't care about anything very much. If the protagonist doesn't really care, why should the reader?

None of these are fatal flaws and could be forgiven if the plot were carried out as it should have been. But alas, Deb fails to make good on his plot's potential. I think the plot fails because Deb makes things too easy for Amrit.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amitabha Bagchi on April 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Deb captures the contingent nature of life in the Indian republic by taking us to it's very edge, the Northeast, where many lies come together to form the truth, or many truths coalesce into one big lie, depending on which way you look at it. The central quest in the novel is fragmented and uncertain, riddled with falsehoods, and is undertaken by an imperfect hero who needs to go further in so that he can get the hell out. In the end it the book is not just about a faraway place where no one needs to go, it's also about the flawed nature of democracy wherever you might live.

This book is important, worth reading, and totally different from most contemporary South Asian fiction.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Surface is a very well written but ultimately disappointing novel set in Northeast India that has had a history of insurgent violence that is both political but often borders on politics as justification for what amounts to organized criminal activity. The story centers on Amrit, a disaffected reporter for the Sentinel in Calcutta. After discovering and becoming captivated a photograph of a young woman who was possibly executed by an insurgent group for being in porn films, and having made contact with a supposed representative of a German magazine interested in a story on North East India, Amrit takes off to the region to uncover the story.

While the prose is wonderful the novel itself is a disappointment. The story meanders from one scene to the next as Amrit uncovers the mystery of the young woman and the conclusion is unsatisfying as the reader wonders why either Amrit or the reader made this journey to begin with.

Note: This novel is also published under the title Surface.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard Kurtz on May 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had throughly enjoyed Siddhartha Deb's first book: Point of No Return, but since it was during the period that I was reading a whole cluster of Indian authors I wasn't sure what my response to his second book would be. Having just finished his latest book, I can say, unequivocally, that this is a wonderful writer! with a very distinguished and impressive style. I really felt that I was with the narrator Amrit as he travels the Northeastern border of India in his quest to uncover the story of the woman in the photograph. I had the pleasure of hearing Deb read from his first book awhile back and recently heard him on NPR discussing his research and goals with this latest book and can heartily recommend it and feel quite confident that you will not only enjoy it but agree with me that we are reading someone who will become an importnat writer of our times.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Cowell VINE VOICE on April 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Amrit, a journalist from Calcutta, now in his thirties and disillusioned with his life which leaves him little room to grow, takes off on an assignment for a German magazine to uncover the story of a porn star, supposedly executed by militants. He has found her photo in his newspaper's morgue and she at once takes hold of his imagination. To find if she could still be living, he travels deep into the lawless hill states between China and Burma. Slowly he enters a world where nothing is at it seems: deserted buildings, rusty signs, buses that hardly creep along roads which are hardly passable. In shabby hotels strangers knock on his door, or accost him at his table, each insistent on spilling forth their stories over quantities of whisky. Every encounter is illusive, half conclusive, the falsehoods so deftly mixed with truth that even the speaker cannot break them apart.

Pushing deeper into the hostile and harsh land, Amrit encounters officials with suitcases spilling open money, large hotels entirely stripped of furnishings but for a few rooms, hearing always of a great and altruistic man who has started something called a Prosperity Project which will help everyone in need. Amrit still steadfastly seeks the missing girl in the picture and as he travels on crowded buses, or jeeps, hearing contradictory stories of her, he begins to feel in some way that her journey is his own.

The India portrayed in An Outline of the Republic is different than any other I have encountered: neither Bollywood nor the shanties of Calcutta, the memories of the glittering princes of the Raj; no temples, comfortable middle classes, arranged marriages, or religious fervor on the shores of the Ganges, but a world utterly apart, forgotten.
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