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Baumgartner's Bombay Hardcover – March 4, 1989

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st American ed edition (March 4, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394572297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394572291
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,263,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This ninth novel by Desai ( Clear Light of Day ; Games at Twilight ), a professor at Mount Holyoke College, reflects the author's background: her mother was German, her father Indian. The novel's hero, Hugo Baumgartner, is a perpetual outsider. Raised in the comforts of a rich Berlin merchant family, he narrowly escapes the Nazis by fleeing to Calcutta. There, after some success at starting over, he is imprisoned alongside dedicated Nazis by indifferent Anglo-Indian authorities. After the war comes the upheaval of partition. Now, in the present, Baumgartner is spending his declining years in a seedy cat-filled room off a back street in Bombay. He accepts the hand life has dealt him: "Acceptingbut not accepted; that was the story of his life. . . . In Germany, . . . his darkness had marked him the Jew. . . . In India, he was fairand that marked him the firanghi foreigner." Having survived so much, a chance encounter with a dissipated German hippie brings Baumgartner the fate he had seemed, until now, to have eluded. Desai's language reveals deep knowledge of both German and Indian ways, and her rich evocation of both settings is superb. This is a quirky book, occasionally irritating in its appropriation of history for its own purposes; but Desai's artful control of her narrative's agenda re sults in a compelling fiction.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Born in Germany, protagonist Harry Baumgartner escapes to Calcutta as a boy after his family suffers the rise of Hitler and the simultaneous fall of the Baumgartner fine-furniture business, as well as the destruction of their Jewish heritage. Imprisoned during the war as a hostile alien, Hugo moves at war's end to Bombay, where the novel--told in flashbacks--begins. Here he eventually finds his main happiness in the many cats who take over his shabby rooms. The story becomes contrived when Hugo befriends Kurt, a young, blond German hippie and dope addict whose sordid adventures in India could not have been experienced by one so young in so short a time--though they are excellently described. Still, Desai merits strong praise for her compellingly realistic descriptions of Indian life.
- Glenn O. Carey, Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on March 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mrs Desai's novel opens with a lady called Lotte fleeing the scene of a murder. She's just lost a close friend, Hugo Baumgartner. When she gets back home, all that is left of Baumgartner's life are a few postcards sent by his mother during the Second World War. The German text on these postcards is always cryptic: "Meine kleine Maus," "Mein Haschen" "Liebchen..." "Do not worry, my rabbit, I am well. Are you well?" "Keep well, my mouse, and do not worry" "I am well..." and they're signed "Mama", "Mutti" or "M".
And so the reader begins to follow Hugo Baumgartner's life, starting with his childhood in Berlin. At the age of about eight, his father, a Jewish furniture retailer, soon loses his business, his store is ransacked by the Nazis and he is taken to a concentration camp. Baumgartner and his mother are forced to leave their beautifully furnished apartment and hide in the former office of the shop. At school, Baumgartner's situation becomes unbearable: his classmates chant to him: "Baumgartner, Baum, hat eine Nase wie ein Daum" (Baumgartner's dumb, has a nose like a thumb.) Eventually, his survival in Germany becoming a matter of days, his mother agrees to Herr Pfuehl's idea to send his son to India, since he has a few connections there in the furniture production business.
There are many moving scenes as the reader discovers, along with Hugo, the sights, sounds and smells of Calcutta and Bombay. And moving too, the life of this pathetic and insignificant man Baumgartner who simply does not belong. Neither to Hitler's Germany nor to India's society, where he is a perpetual "firanghi", foreigner, a wounded survivor.
This novel is the achievement of a superior writer with a sharp perception about human nature, loss, solitude.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Alistair Sinclair on June 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the first book I have read by Anita Desai. It was memorable and thoroughly satisfying. One could not say that it was enjoyable as that would betray the emotions experienced on reading the book. I came away enthralled, though disenchanted with the world and its occupants, to say nothing of being more than a little depressed.
The eponymous character is a kindly, benevolent old man, a foreigner in India, who is totally out of kilter with the world in which he lives. His fondness for cats betrays his need for relationships, given the evident absence of personal contact in his everyday experiences. In many ways, the only satisfying aspect of his life is the past, where he spends much of his time reflecting. His sole relationship with any meaning is with another extremely unhappy, demoralised expatiate who hates everyting about the circumstances in which she now finds herself.
Together, they make a sorry pair. He is kind, mild-mannered, gentle, unassuming and much put upon. She is much more aggressive, though an anchronism, living very much in the better days of yesteryear. The world in which they now live is extremely unfogiving and unkind to them. The past they left behind, however, was equally unattractive.
The ending was in many ways a blessing. The misery of the surroundings and the leading characters will live in my mind for a long time, as will the conduct of the self-absorbed young foreigner who brought this tale to a climax. In many ways, he is the epitome of all that is unacceptable today. The small kindnesses he experienced are disregarded and his selfish demands take precedence over anyone else's needs.
If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller full of action, you have come to the wrong place.
Read more ›
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Leslie Young on April 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Baumgartner's Bombay is a memorable and haunting tale of the holocaust and the resulting new wave of the dispossessed and grieving let loose on the world--in this case cast adrift in India. Baumgartner neither understands nor feels at home in the East--an incomprehension that is amply reciprocated by his new colleagues and acquaintances. The ending is a bit disappointing but the novel as a whole reverberates in the mind long after you put it down...
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By Guy Randell on July 12, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Grotesque. Unappealing characters meandering through the barest of stories. It gets worse with each page. Quit while you're ahead. Save you money and your time.
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The story tells about a German Jewish man who is in in India during WWII.
He stays on to live in India while his family is decimated back home-and has a mistress who is a one-time prostitute,also Jewish.
So far ,so good.
You'd think that with this powerful material,the author could create an interesting story
Not so
The author is under the impression that by quoting German folk songs,she has already created the entire atmosphere and description of the situation in Germany and India during WWII.
She believes that by inserting a few words of Yiddish here and there,she has already made the reader understand the complexity of the situation--the exiled Jew in India
While reading this book,I often stopped and wondered at the absurd tools the author used.
I asked myself "How stupid does she think her readers are?"
To tackle such a sensitive subject as the Shoah you definitely need to do more than insert a few lines taken from German poetry.
Sorry,Ms Dessai!
Next time,i won't buy.
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