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on November 12, 2009
I love this book- it is one of my favorite new genres of travel literature. You can feel Bombay- sorry Mumbai, in this book, smell it and even taste it. One of my favorite books of all time.
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on June 1, 2013
Suketu Mehta has written the authoritative text on Bombay, a complex, flawed and fascinating metropolis that will appeal to academics, pleasure readers and curiosity seekers alike.
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on November 1, 2013
Interesting view of life in India. Written with humor too. Describes an "inside view" of real life workings.This was recommended by a co worker from India.
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on May 18, 2014
Lots of interesting stories and the author captures emotions, atmosphere and culture very well. What a great sacrifice to spend two years with the worst of life in India. The flow could have been better. Sometimes the story wonders without apparent purpose. Overall interesting read.
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on July 11, 2007
The book was in excellent condition and the book is a must read for folks interested in knowing more about cities in India and Asia
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on February 1, 2007
Worth all the praise that has been lavished on it even if a bit overlong, Suketu Metha's Maximum City realistically presents the swirling, pollution-choke tableau that is present-day Bombay. In the long run, perhaps the book's greatest value will be its presenting at first-hand an account of the nefarious and destructive effect that the xenophobic Shiv Sena political party had on the tapestry of various ethnic, religious and linguistic groups that make Bombay such an interesting urban setting, a story that has been largely ignored outside of India itself (and indeed, in India only glancingly addressed). Full of humor and pathos, the book makes a good introduction for anyone visiting the region.
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on June 25, 2006
...the Suketu Mehta's MAXIMUM CITY -- a book about Bombay and its colourful characters -- is definitely for you!

Okay, I admit, I'm on a bit of an "Indian tip" of late. So sue me! See, I actually wanted to firm up a review of this book for a very long time now. What you're about to read is sadly overdue to the tune of eight (8) months or more, truth be told.

I'd long-known about Mehta's spectacular book during a podcast from the equally-stellar Radio Netherlands website. I'd heard it while running up a hamster-like storm on the treadmill somewhere in Vancouver. Fascinated, was I, by Mehta's swashbuckling account of how he -- according to his very own words -- "nearly evaded" death during several close-calls with his interviewees while querying them about their lives and activities as members of gangs like Bombay's notorious D-Company. There are tens of such underworldly-types populating the pages of MAXIMUM CITY's mini-tales.

With the character of Mehta's novel clearly falling into the "subversive" category in my mind, I somehow knew -- deep down -- that I was a shoe-in for a book review.

A brief history of my experience with it: count 'em --> several non-started attempts (two?) to complete a review after borrowing MAXIMUM CITY from the public library. I never had a chance to look at it once on either of those previous two attempts. So I finally took matters into my own hands and just bought the thing for myself.

Mehta breaks MAXIMUM CITY down into a number of intuitive sections, each of them exemplified by a particular personality engaged in the activity under the given chapter's microscope who reside in the Bomaby/Mumbai metropolis.

In painstaking detail, Mehta commences these various introspectives with an overview of the complex and internecine Bombay underworld -- the "gangwar" (as the thugs are wont to call it) which has been plaguing the city's streets ever since the eruption of anti-Muslim riots in the Marathi state in 2001. Mehta clearly points out the players on the ground (with many names changed, of course), and introduces us to the police officials whose round-the-clock mission it is to hunt down these men and oblierate their illicit networks and the interests they represent. In some cases, the police are charged with killing the hoods, and this is another element the tourbooks may be reticent to tell you.

The author is nothing short of masterful in laying out how these various shady characters earn their keep. Nor is he craven about revealing the sorts of personalities who are in the dons' employ, or of the tremendous influence they wield in the higher echelons of Indian parliamentary power and privilege. In other words, gangsters are likely in control of what goes for upper strata living in Indian society.

From there, the writer of MAXIMUM CITY gravitates towards a description of the many meetings he'd held over the course of his research with some of Bombay's most notorious hitmen; the poor bedraggled men (and rarely physically imposing) who perform the grizzly wet work of the mafia dons who for the most part reside outside Bombay -- in Dubai, for instance. These men on the street do what they do because they are desperate. Mehta tells us that they number in the thousands! Sometimes killing for as little as two dollars (!!!), such is the cheapness of life in big bad Bombay.

Mehta examines Bombay nightlife: the strip clubs and beer bars where the ladies of the night ply their trade to Bombay's filthy and insanely rich set (diamonds, arms smuggling, drugs). The author supplies us with fly-on-the-wall accounts as a preferred "client" of these bars, and depicts the behaviours of the many men who roam the rooms of the dark Bombay nightclubs when regular business hours have long subsided.

Suketu Mehta takes the case of two young dancing girls: "Monalisa" and the cross-dressing "Honey," who take us on a wild ride of their various exploits as the objects of male attention. Who they sleep with, who they dine with, and what got them started along this path of licentiousness in the first place.

Another series of chapters has Metha being asked to contribute to the script of the box-office busting film "Mission Kashmir." Readers will feast on a genuine how-to of Bollywood filmmaking 101 -- the do's and don't's of what goes into the drafting of a Bollywood script, and how the process of casting and financing it comes into play. We learn of some of the greatest names in Indian cinema -- past and present -- and of the lives of the famous players behind the scenes as Metha lives, dines, and interacts with them in the city of his birth. Metha reveals to us the dangerous confluence between organized crime and the film biz in India, which was another fascinating tidbit. Oftentimes, Indian producers are forced to appeal to underworld types to fund and mount their multimillion rupee productions. Mehta unfurls in his prose several accounts of this process run amok.

We follow the travails of one such director/producer who must beg for his life at the eleventh hour from a mafia kingpin, all because he had achieved such phenomenal success with that same film which Mehta was a part of drafting -- "Mission Kashmir." A twisted turn of events.

The fate of the "new Indian worker" is explored. We're given an overview of what is presently happening in the tech-frenzied country, and of the experiences of one particular worker and friend of Suketu's, Girish. We learn of Girish's dreams of leapfrogging his humble chawl (shanty-town or slum) beginnings on a beeline for America -- where he fantasizes about being of assistance to his friends and family by "bringing them up" as a result of his success.

The book closes on a particularly perplexing note about the religion known as Jainism. Virtually unheard of in the West, it's an ascetic-centred faith which demands from its followers a complete annihilation of their worldly desires by renouncing any and all connections with manifestations of the material world. Mehta follows the fate of a billionaire Jain, long an acquaintance of his grandfather, and of this man's trials and those of the four other memebers of his nuclear family. We suffer along with them as they immerse themselves in the act of cutting themselves completely off from their former selves and lives.

Personally, I'm pleased Mehta chose to conclude his book on this note, because it was the most disturbing section of all. I won't go into specifics other than to say that what the Jains do in order to cut themselves off from temptation and the known world is shocking. What they force themselves to endure in their mission to achieve "moksha" -- the total destruction of want and self -- staggers the mind.

--

Roughly, these were the sections which comprised this work.

In a free-flowing style which doesn't contain a hint of academic pompousity, author Suketu Mehta delivers up a fictional narrative worthy of some of the very best of the craft -- Plimption and Mailer defintely come to mind -- albeit "gone Bollywood."

Once I dug in deeply, finding the current of sustenance that flows swiftly at the spine of this work, I didn't want to stop.

Mehta does a great job of "keeping it real" for us. He uses Hindi and Marathi vernacular where most appropriate, and he peppers his characters' dialogues which just the right amount of authenticity. It makes MAXIMUM CITY so very accessible to those who don't trace their roots back to the Subcontinent.

The work contains just the needed mix of dialogue and action, always keeping you on your toes, never letting you drift -- the editing was slick, and that's a good thing because it shows that the people at Vintage take their sentences seriously.

And Metha doesn't coddle us, either. We're never shielded from the truth of what goes on in the city-state, and there's rarely any mercy for those of us looking for a sanitized kiddie read. For example, acts of brutal animal slaughter are told about in rich chromatic detail. The nature of a would-be transsexual's aborted sex change operation is laid out in intimate prose; including the reasons why the operation never went to term.

As well, Mehta isn't never afraid to "go there." He always manages to connect the events he's describing right back to the reason *why* -- moreover -- he's doing this. Everything in MAXIMUM CITY seems to take its cue from something deeply and personally-relevant to Mehta, and that's where the novel finds its greatest voice of authenticity. We learn this increasingly as we go through the work. It's evident that Mehta really *dwelled* amongst these characters -- for quite a long time, always refusing to pull out a second too early until he managed to get what he came for. Metha seems to have stuck it out until the end, and it clearly shows.

Another great book you might want to have a look at is a companion piece to this called SHANTARAM, written by Gregory David Roberts. It, too, goes into blow-by-blow detail about life on Bombay's streets -- in a different time and a different place, mind you -- but still Bomaby all the same.

Mehta's book is less a novel then a semester-long course on Indian Urban Dynamics -- writ large, and totally in keeping with the city of its namesake, the wild "maximum city" itself, Bombay.

I not only learned more than I could possibly hope to learn from some lame Indian tour-book -- always the worst way to learn about a place, I'm sure -- but I was entertained in page turn after delightful page turn. Too bad it ended where it did.

Only question...what's Suketu Mehta going to do for an encore? Aha...

Well this one was five stars, for sure.
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on June 17, 2016
Amazing voyage through the many fascinating sides of Bombay. I couldn't put this book down. What a wonderful read.
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on August 8, 2009
The book has such narrative intensity -- I do not know how Suketu Mehta was able to write with such beautiful detachment about a city he knows and loves (and also hates).

I read V. S. Naipaul's A MILLION MUTINIES NOW, and books by fiction writers like Tahmima Anam. But not until I read this book did I see the personal consequences of the religious hatred that threatens to tear apart the fabric of Indian society.

This is a great book (I also marvel at the author's honesty, that he is able to level the most acute criticism of Bombay culture, but never comes off as sounding like someone with an ax to grind . . . )
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on June 17, 2015
what a great read..started it on a Friday and was done on Sunday afternoon....what a great read..lots of info
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