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Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India Paperback – November 2, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The very best book about Hindu mythology that anyone has ever written...A magnificent reading of Hindu texts. Its power arises in part through strong, vivid writing and in part through stunning, unexpected metaphors."
--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

"A giddy invasion of stories--brilliant, enigmatic, troubling, outrageous, erotic, beautiful." --"The New York Times Book Review
"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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (November 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679775471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679775478
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Patel on August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
I cannot understand why anyone would give this book a single star. Having grown up Hindu, I can say that Calasso has given me a retelling of stories from my childhood, and given my valuable insights into those stories.
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.
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By A Customer on November 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Calasso's works tend to be illuminating and humbling in equal portions, and this is no exception. If you've read any of the ancient stories in more traditional forms -- Hamilton's mythology, or a translation of the Bhagvad-gita for example, you're in for a big surpise. Get ready. And if you think of yourself as reasonably well read, Calasso will make you feel illiterate. This man seems to have read, and digested everything.
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.
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Format: Paperback
When I first saw this book on the library shelf, I was tempted to try it out then and there itself. I began leafing through the pages, and before I knew it, it was closing time for the library. I barely got enough time to get this issued and get it home to continue reading it.

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
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Format: Paperback
I tend to agree with the professional critics about Ka rather than some of the reviews readers have posted. I know something about Hinduism and Budddhism but not much. I still found this book a great read and really interesting. I was absorbed and moved by the translation of these stories. They are beautifully written and I got a lot out of reading them. I probably have more to learn and won't retain everything in the book that I read but it is a start with a very complex subject and one I don't believe could fully be understood by anyone. Ambiguity didn't ruin this book for me one bit.
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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 paradox), but they express effortlessly "the thing", from this chamber of the mind that all poets, esoterists, philosophers try to shout from ; this reflexive poetry of the poetry itself, the own system of the mind; how it produces and works, its expression of idols, gods, ethics, cosmogony; what it needs to get in order to appreciate its own mechanism. It's very important to read this kind of litterature because it's coming from the same seat that anyone can sit on, except for the patterns of mythical creation, as the throne that was there when the first release happened.

In this age to read about religion, culture, nation building, is crucial. Because a lot of persons talk about what institutions want you to interpret, like sheeps; the "common sense" of it, what is culturally best to take from it, and it's generally not in the text itself (for ex Old Testament, which has been mistreated by institutions for centuries.) Generally in studying religious texts, you realize they were far more open-ended and rational than they suddenly need to be. Going in those texts and in those meanings with the distance that our generation has thanks to explorers of the past and historians of human civilisation, is a gift. The Ka here is a good exemple, when you think that this speculation "Who ?" became a character with its own self. It concerns as much all the semitic religions (Islam and Judaism, and by extension Christianity) because they were far less fooling themselves that those who fools others with characterization of speculative concepts. If you can't understand a symbol, you can't understand a meaning.
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