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Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India Paperback – November 2, 1999
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--Wendy Doniger, The New Republic
"Magnificent...A moving, exhillarating, extraordinary book...An astonishing synthesis of myths and legends, philosophical inquiry, and speculative narrative"
--Shashi Tharoor, Washington Post Book World
"A scintillatingly challenging book...Its opening sentences are as startling as any in all of literature."
--Thomas McGonigle, Los Angeles Times
"All is spectacle and delight, and -tiny mirrors reflecting human foibles are set into the weave, turning this retelling into the stuff of literature...Calasso's erudition and his capacity for invention appear to be limitless."
--The New Yorker
"To read Ka is to experience a giddy invasion of stories--brilliant, enigmatic, troubling, outrageous, erotic, beautiful."
--Sunil Khilnani, New York Times Book Review
"A buoyant, expansive narrative that captures, with earthy vigor, scrupulous scholarship, and epic breadth, the Indian cultural ethos."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"This riveting performance (rendered beautifully into English by Tim Parks) is the fruit of a union
between serious scholarship and a mercurial imagination."
--Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Calasso has certainly managed to open a new road through the old landscape of literature."
--John Banville, New York Review of Books
From the Inside Flap
"So brilliant that you can't look at it anymore--and you can't look at anything else. . . . No one will read it without reward."
--"The Boston Globe
With the same narrative fecundity and imaginative sympathy he brought to his acclaimed retelling of the Greek myths, Roberto Calasso plunges Western readers into the mind of ancient India. He begins with a mystery: Why is the most important god in the Rg Veda, the oldest of India's sacred texts, known by a secret name--"Ka," or Who?
What ensues is not an explanation, but an unveiling. Here are the stories of the creation of mind and matter; of the origin of Death, of the first sexual union and the first parricide. We learn why Siva must carry his father's skull, why snakes have forked tongues, and why, as part of a certain sacrifice, the king's wife must copulate with a dead horse. A tour de force of scholarship and seduction, Ka is irresistible.
"Passage[s] of such ecstatic insight and cross-cultural synthesis--simply, of such beauty." --"The New York Review of Books
"All is spectacle and delight, and tiny mirrors reflecting human foibles are set into the weave, turning this retelling into the stuff of literature." --"The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
In this work, Calasso illustrates the religious thought of India through a retelling of many stories. It might be more fair to say reimaging, but I'd hate to mislead you into thinking this is some sort of postmodernist 'recontextualizing' of the stories. Calasso's not trying to subvert the stories, but rather to get inside them. The reader ends up with intuitions, and a sense of complex relationships, rather than a reductionist or reconstructed version of the tales.
If you're more familiar with western traditions, I recommend "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony" as an introduction to his technique. But if you're interested in the people and culture of India but have found the other works either too archaic or new-agey, this is a great introduction.
The book is as much a history as it is a novel. It is the history of Indian thought told as a story would be, and with each step Calasso gives us another beautiful conclusion or observation.
If there was one part of the book that was flawed, it was the drawn out story of the horse sacrifice, but even there we see how much research Calasso has done.
There are benefits to being somone in a culture and writing on it, but there are also benefits to being an outsider. Calasso is one of the best writers on the outside of India. Not only do we see the linkings of Hinduism, we see the linkings of Calasso's mind, and this linking of facts and memes is a major theme of the faith that Calasso presents. The way this book echoes itself is beautiful.
In truth, as one critic said, nothing has come out of India that deals with Hinduism so wonderfully in recent years. This simply is the truth, and rather than an insult I think Hindus should read this book and accept the challenge to produce a better work.
To say it is a good book would be an understatement. To say it is an excellent book, written by an extremely erudite & imaginative author, would come close to doing justice to the efforts of Calasso.
I've done my share of reading of the Hindu mythology, and there were umpteen little stories, snippets and legends I came across for the first time in this book. The book is obviously written with long and careful research, deep into the ethereal nature of Hindu mythology, itself written & collated over thousands of millenia. The universe of literature that this book purports (and in fact, achieves) to cover consists of more than three-and-a-half-million Gods & Goddesses, all of whom have their own little story of origin, and importance, and appearance. When you add to that the fact that almost all of these dieties are also related to each other, in some way or the other, over time and space and worlds, the knots become so complicated to unravel that it takes an extremely skilled writer to see through the stories, and find clarity even in chaos.
I found the book quite entertaining, in terms of its (at times) lyrical content, lazy speed, and the introspection time that the (featured) Gods were given and what they introspect in that time. It's amazing how Calasso has been able to adroitly inter-twine the various legends together into a single book, with the chapters strung together, like pearls on a necklace.
For anyone with more than a fleeting interest in the Hindu mythology and the dieties that make up the Indian deity line-up, this is a must-read book. For the others, if imagination stimulates you, this is your cup-of-tea.
My score: a perfect 5 / 5
But, personally, while I find the material revealing, the presentation had a tone somewhere between academic and distantly lyrical. What I mean is that this book is meant to alter or rework religious texts into a digestible novel. Some of the stories stand on their own despite the sort-of objective perspective, others don't.
Further, I believe the book is mistitled. One part of the book does focus on Ka, the pregenetor in the Indian cosmology. Yet, throughout the book we find focus put upon the many avatars of Vishnu. Krishna, Buddha, and The White Horse (though I couldn't find where the author recognizes this fact) all fall in this category.
So, if you are interested in the stories of Indian Hinduism this book can extend your knowledge of the characters and give some of them life. Otherwise, it seems to be a well-written compilation work by an author not in the field of Hinduism.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Having read the reviews that have already been posted, it is clear to me that there is no more to be said other than this work is phenomenal. Read morePublished 9 months ago by HIM
KA, by the Italian writer Roberto Calasso, is a breathtaking and revelatory book. Calasso had hit the boards running in 1993 with THE MARRIAGE OF CADMUS AND HARMONY, a reimagining... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Glenn J. Shea
An interesting amalgama of traditional mythology and personal points of view. Not as easily readable as the Marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia.Published on May 4, 2013 by Alina Malta
Roberto Calasso put his mind into a place that create a shocking release of ideas. Not that they are complex or not relatable (they are very relatable even in their proper... Read morePublished on September 14, 2012 by Lthm2
Hindu Mythology comes alive in the pages of this book. Beautifully written, Calasso is indeed gifted with research & expression. Read morePublished on January 22, 2011 by Pratibha Jain
The author writes beautifully and he can keep your attention for awhile, especially in the first few chapters. Read morePublished on April 20, 2009 by G. Singh
It certainly helps having some background knowledge of hindu mythology before picking this book up (same goes for greek mythology and the Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony). Read morePublished on March 27, 2009 by ILC reader