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English, August: An Indian Story (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 4, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chatterjee's slacker bildungsroman, first published in India in 1988 and set during that decade, tells of a privileged young man's year of living languorously. Agastya Sen, nicknamed "August" for his Anglophile tendencies, is the urbane, aimless son of a respected government official. After college he enters the elite Indian Administrative Service and is posted to the remote provincial village of Madna. Without conviction or ambition, "interested in nothing," he only wants to "crush the restlessness in his mind." Brutal heat, tedium, insomnia and the absurdities of his job—compounded by a daily regimen of marijuana—only add fuel to his dissolution. Between feeble attempts at learning the ins and outs of district administration from his appointed mentor, Srivastav, a hilarious popinjay, Agastya reduces his routine to a joyless cycle of pot smoking, masturbation and nocturnal distance running. This study in lassitude rambles on at a pace that reflects the rhythms of the insouciant main character's life, but Chatterjee (The Last Burden), himself an IAS officer, creates a comic, entertaining portrayal of an administrator's life in the sticks. (Apr.)
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From The New Yorker

A best-seller when it was first published, in India in 1988, this satiric novel chronicles the reluctant coming of age of a privileged young man who has just entered the prestigious Indian Administrative Service. Posted to a small town deep in the interior, he finds himself a foreigner in his own country, wary of cholera, defenseless against mosquitoes, and shocked by the sight of a tribal woman: "They exist, he shrieked silently, outside arty films about tribal exploitation and agrarian reform." In revolt, he sneaks out of meetings, pretends to be the son of Antarctic explorers, and smokes copious amounts of pot. He's an avatar of the Western slacker: overeducated, bored, plagued with doubts, and incapable of action. Still, Chatterjee's story is uniquely Indian, as he plumbs his hero's fear of being "just one more urban Indian bewitched by America's hard sell in the Third World."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; (2nd) edition (April 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171799
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171790
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #350,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on July 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Imagine combining Salinger's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE with Roth's PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT and Kevin Smith's CLERKS and setting the whole story in rural India, using for a protagonist a college-educated, citified, pot-smoking, Marcus Aurelius reading, half-Bengali, half-Christian slacker whose friends have Anglicized his Bengali name, Agastya, into August. All this and more are accomplished in Upamanyu Chatterjee's hilarious 1988 novel ENGLISH, AUGUST. Whether you view it as a coming of age story or a slacker novel, this book is a comic masterpiece, THE GRADUATE in India without a Mrs. Robinson.

Chatterjee's story centers around a recent college graduate named Agastaya Sen. Known to his friends as August and to his family as Ogu, Agastaya lives the dissolute, carefree life of the privileged in Delhi, his father being the Governor of Bengal. Unfortunately, his mother, a Catholic from Goa, died from meningitis when Agastaya was just three years old, so he was raised largely by aunts. He passes seemingly effortlessly through college, acquiring a hybrid Western/Indian lifestyle that includes ample quantities of alcohol and marijuana. His major goal in life is simply to be happy, to live contentedly and not be bothered, and certainly not to fall into the rut of commuting to an office, working, commuting home, and then rising the next day to do it all again until he dies.

Having successfully achieved a high score on the national examinations for government service, however, August consents to a position in the Indian Administrative Service and a posting to a distant country town named Madna. Once there, he begins a training period and proves himself to be a heroic shirker of work, an incorrigible pot smoker, a compulsive freeloader, and an almost pathological liar.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jvalant N. Sampat on January 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
No one has captured the widening chasm between urban and rural India as brilliantly as this. An average Indian growing up in an Indian megapolis like a Bombay or a Bangalore will tell you that he feels more at home in New York or London than in a place like Madna like rural India. A host of Indian authors like Rushdie and Naipaul write books for the westen audience, but this one is written for the Indian one - in a satirical style, totally against the current trend of Indian authors who write in a moving, spiritual and philosophical way. While I find Naipaul eternally pessimistic and defeatist and Rushdie amazingly reminiscing, Chatterjee is a realist. Agastya Sen, the main character (called August), is the average Indian you meet in your everyday life. He basically cares about India and genuinely wants to make a difference, but knows that it is not his cup of tea and so accepts the reality and tries to live through it by looking at the whole experience through the prism of satire. Truly, if there is an Indian author who deserves accolades as much as Rushdie, Naipaul or the grossly over-rated Arundhati Roy, it definitely is Chatterjee. I have also read the sequel to English, August - Mammaries of a Welfare State. It is as good if not better than English, August but I had to order the books through rediff since I couldn't find them anywhere in the USA.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Reader in Tokyo on August 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book, written in English, was published in 1988 and was the author's first novel. In it, a well-educated, well-connected young man from Calcutta took up a post in a provincial backwater somewhere in the middle of India, just after joining the Indian civil service. The town was known mainly for having the nation's hottest weather.

The man, Agastya, nicknamed August, was Westernized and urbanized. He'd taken the post impulsively to gain a new perspective on his country. But soon he grew stupefied from the heat, the boredom of the daily routine and his self-important superiors, the bad food, too much pot and the lack of available women. Because of his education and background -- English lit major at college, Westernization, big-city origins -- he felt like an outsider. He sought comfort from his tapes of Tagore and Ella Fitzgerald, and solace in the Bhagavad Gita and Marcus Aurelius.

The story was written in the third person, from his point of view. It recorded mainly the daily round of activities, the characters he met, and his restlessness. In the course of the book, he observed various paths that people around him had taken: throwing themselves into administrative routine; facing life with mockery; drinking, getting stoned or other debaucheries; devoting themselves selflessly to others, or engaging in revolutionary agitation like the local Naxalites. Or, like his college friends in Delhi, beginning lucrative careers in the private sector as bankers or accountants. But at the book's end, after achieving a bit of perspective, he seemed still unsure of the path to take.

As the novel progressed, I found him very self-involved, cynical, with little compassion for others.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mohit Nayyar on August 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Here's a slightly over-the-top review I wrote a few years back...

This, by far, is one of the best books I have ever read in the English language, and not just by an Indian author. It's based on the author's experiences in the first few months of being an IAS officer when he is posted to a small township in the middle of nowhere (Looks like AP in the movie based on the book). This autobiographical background gives authenticity and depth to the novel. Not surprisingly, a major theme of the book is the isolation the author experiences, and the impossibity, considering he's a city boy, of his coming to terms with his new rural status.

The book has a deliciously irreverent air about it, about life and the IAS, which is what makes it such compelling reading. It's the first job the protagonist has ever had and one finds it very easy to relate to the dilemmas and challenges he faces therein. The book is a welcome change from pretty, pansy-ish works of fiction written by ex-pats sitting in the US or UK whose descriptions of India, in my opinion, border on magic-realism. The example that comes to mind is Rohington Mistry (Such a Long Journey, I think was the book) writing about Parsis in Bombay - found the description too sanitized and artificial - maybe not being a Bombayite makes it difficult for me to appreciate it. This book on the other hand has character and a very 'real' feel to it, it scores high on originality, everything about it feels new, the author seems to be covering ground not covered before by any other author.

The book is quite critical about the bureaucracy and some of the characters the author mocks are easily recognizable, I am told, as being based on real people he encountered when he was in the town that serves as the model for Madna.
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