Top critical review
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Found some; lost some
on December 28, 2006
I actually agree with a lot of the reviews written on this book, especially in terms of the specifics they have captured on what works in this book and what does not. The purpose of this review thus is only to either reiterate the key points briefly, or to add a couple of new ones.
0. Context setting: I lived in Bombay for 6 years, hope to never live there again, but am fascinated by it, and can't read enough about it. I wasn't directly exposed to either the underbelly or the glamour of Bombay, but was definitely aware of it - something you can never avoid if you live there. My perspective is thus much more middle-class, which I think would be the broadest perspective on Bombay.
1. Bombay is a city begging to be written about, and despite the almost sudden rise in interest in writing about this city, there are still only a few one can really read, so Suketu's attempt is a welcome addition.
2. Suketa's heart in the right place, but his execution is confused. He clearly wants to capture the heart and soul of Bombay, but seems to be limited by his obvious journalistic and dispassionate style. At times the city gets the better of him and he lets go, but not often enough. This is in my opinion is the biggest drawback of the book - it's just stuck somewhere in between an extended non-fiction journal piece and a string of stories linked together by the theme of a city.
3. The book is way too long. Enough people have already pointed this out, so I won't belabour the point, but really, the obsession with writing about the Mafia is totally tedious. If that was what the book was intended to be about, I would have no complaints, but it wasn't, and I think it's unfair to devote half the book (directly or indirectly) to this subject.
4. The author is clearly star-struck (film stars, political stars, underworld stars, you-name-it stars), which biases the content in the book and makes it disproportionately and painfully heavy towards the warped un-reality that stars live in.
5. The depth of exploration of various subjects is clearly inconsistent, with some being ridiculously long (refer 3 above), and some painfully short. I am not sure whether that's because of the author's biases, or because of the information detail he was able to elicit on various subjects, but irrespective, it leads to some frustration.
In closing, let me state that I recognize that this review sounds harsh, but it is not really intended to be, and is just meant to prepare you for the long journey you will embark upon. In the end, all the above notwithstanding, I would still recommend this book as a second or third one if you want to get to know, and I mean really know, Bombay. My unequivocal first choice remains Shantaram, a book which never misses the pulse of the city in its much longer 1000 page journey, and remains the ultimate paean to Bombay.