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Mumbai Fables Hardcover – October 10, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Hardcover, October 10, 2010
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Editorial Reviews


"The best test of a city's biography, like [Mumbai Fables], is whether it makes the reader want to visit of not. Those who do, having read this book, will have a perceptive, if quirky, insight as their guide."--Times Literary Supplement

"Brilliant."--William Dalrymple, Glasgow Herald (UK)

"[T]he most masterful history yet written about this celebrated, struggling city, a riveting narrative that reaches back to 1498 to explore the stories the metropolis has conspired to tell itself--and spun out for the world. . . . Prakash's Mumbai Fables sets a new standard in writing about cities, not just as a history of Mumbai but as an accessible history of any metropolis."--Naresh Fernandes, Time Out Mumbai

"Princeton history professor Prakash weaves thrilling story lines about Bombay life depicted in movies, novels, and comic books with gripping true stories about the legendary Indian metropolis. . . . With an inviting style and inability to resist drama, Prakash creates lively portrayals of the major figures in the opium and cotton trades, the sensational reporting of the Blitz tabloid, and the horrific monsoons of the past decade."--Publishers Weekly

"The strength of Mumbai Fables is its treasury of cultural references about the city, and in this, it excels. Novels, short stories, newspapers, films, poems, paintings; the unique flavor of the place comes through powerfully."--Roderick Matthews, Literary Review

"Gyan Prakash chronicles Bombay with verve and panache. . . . [H]e has meshed different narratives of the city, and created a hybrid blend that is entirely in character with Bombay itself."--Salil Tripathi, New Republic

"[T]he historian here is a first-rate storyteller."--S. Prasannarajan, India Today

"The book is . . . accessible and will interest even the lay reader with its stories that illumine Bombay's past. Essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Mumbai."--Ravi Shenoy, Library Journal

"A majestic work of history. . . . Search for a single dull paragraph or a mildly boring chapter and you will be frustrated and defeated. . . . There is serious history here, which is very readable, and there is serious history of sex, murder, and scams reminiscent of the works of the novelist James Ellroy."--Arthur J. Pais, India Abroad

"Etching out the cultural history of one of the world's most important urban centers, Gyan Prakash views Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals. Shedding light on the city's past and present, Mumbai Fables offers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis."--Srirekha Chakravarty, India Post

"A delight. . . . Mumbai's history is almost as full of crime, corruption, terror, and chauvinism as of fabulous creativity. In Prakash's account, rightly, it is the latter which predominates."--Stephen Howe, Independent (UK)

"[Prakash] has been able to pull together an impressive amount of facts, figures, and fables by devoting himself to sources such as novels, poems, films, interviews, tabloid accounts and even comic-book illustrations."--Bharti Kirchner, Seattle Times

"Reading Mumbai Fables, you can get the sense of the linear timeline, the Bombay to Mumbai, England to India, with a jagged Partition down the middle. . . . But going from A to B won't help you understand how that happened. Prakash uses the act of collage to give the reader a better perspective. . . . Masterful. . . . I think Prakash gets closer to a true picture of what Mumbai is--if a city is anything."--Jessa Crispin, Smart Set

"I recommend you read Mumbai Fables. And then, crack a beer and watch a Hindi film."--Amitava Kumar, Bookslut.com

"[An] excellent account of Mumbai. . . . This is an insider's view of one of India's most exciting and unusual cities. It is a reminder of how much deeper a local can go and how much more valuable such a guide can be. If you are planning a visit to Mumbai this is a superb introduction."--Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

"The real and rapid development currently taking place in India offers new hope, but it will take dreamers as well as business leaders to fashion a new modernity for the masses rather than just the elites. Mumbai Fables points to one good place to start."--Dolan Cummings, CultureWars.org

"Gyan Prakash's Mumbai Fables is a thing of beauty. Trawling the archives as flâneur and walking the city's past as historian, Prakash reads the city as palimpsest. He pays homage to the seductive power of myths about Mumbai and its earlier avatar Bombay--the city of free enterprise, the efficient city, the cosmopolitan city, the liberal city, the modern city--while illuminating the troubled histories and lowly origins from which the myths emerge."--Rohit Chopra, Sunday Guardian

"Mumbai Fables is an engaging narrative, and offers a different way for urban historians to write the biography of a city. But it will have more to offer for those familiar with the city, for whom the gleam of recognition will be a benefit."--Katrina Gulliver, Berlin Review of Books

"Utilizing popular literature, movies, comics, and art as metaphors for Mumbai's (Bombay's) history, historian Prakash interprets the history and allure of Mumbai from its early days as a collection of small islands containing an equally small population to its contemporary attempts to become a 'world class city.'"--Choice

"[I]n Mumbai Fables, Prakash has managed to write a riveting account, which is very much his own. . . . Each story is so well-told that it is impossible to put the book down."--Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Businessworld

"[T]his is an immensely readable book. In a highly informative and innovative style Prakash presents both a popular urban history and a sophisticated interpretation of that history, without compromising content, style or concept."--Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Contemporary South Asia

"Mumbai Fables is a wonderfully entertaining introduction to the city's rich cultural history."--Lisa Kaaki, Arab News

"There is a fabulous element to his account, the retrieving of childhood awe, and a very real enchantment which much writing about Mumbai shares."--Andrew Whitehead, Raritan

From the Inside Flap

"A fascinating exploration of my favorite city, full of insider knowledge and sharp insights."--Salman Rushdie

"Gyan Prakash brilliantly combines the historian's savoir faire with the savvy seductions of the urban raconteur. Mumbai Fables splendidly explores the shape-changing, scene-setting experience of a city that dares to restlessly reinvent its horizons. It is the challenge of the 'present' and the survival of the everyday, Prakash argues, that gives Mumbai its myth and reality. 'It's now or never,' the city seems to sing, 'tomorrow will be too late.'"--Homi K. Bhabha, Harvard University

"Blending historical research with a novelistic spirit, Mumbai Fables fluidly unfolds the development of the city in a rich narrative that makes the story come alive. Prakash challenges our understanding of Mumbai's cosmopolitanism and his colorful descriptions enhance our view of the city in manifold ways. This is a great book."--Rahul Mehrotra, RMA Architects and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"This fabulous book is lively and engaging, as well as profound and important. In clear and compelling prose Prakash unearths dynamic features of one of the most important cities in the world, achieving a large-scale portrait, from its origins to today. Rich with stories, this is a masterful sweep through a great city's history."--Philip J. Ethington, University of Southern California

"Mumbai Fables tells the moving history of this city through extended vignettes and personal stories that are a pleasure to read. Providing countless insights, this superb book moves through different neighborhoods, time periods, and individuals, and wonderfully depicts the living city--the modern city--through five centuries of its existence."--Eric D. Weitz, author of Weimar Germany

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (October 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114284X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142845
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,930,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought this book in Mumbai as a sovenier visiting India. I love this book. It is history of Mumbai (non-fiction) written as little short stories. For someone first time in India, this book is a great read. Told in little chapters we get a picture of the Mumbai, whether it is the movies, the Taj or India-Pakistan relationship. Looking forward to movies based on the short chapters.
I am glad this book is finally having its US release.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Gyan Prakash's Mumbai Fables begins with a riveting excerpt from an unpublished 1927 thriller novel written by the amusingly-named Pherozeshaw Chevalier (Chaiwala) based in Mumbai. With it, Gyan Prakah sets out the alluring premise of the book - to explore the soft city of illusion, myth, aspirations and nightmares, rather than the hard city one can locate on maps.

And the book lives up to the promise upto the halfway mark. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that the exalted Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy who has 127 charities in Mumbai including an art college, schools and a hospital, made his wealth in opium smuggling.

The chapters on colonial India and the original reclamation project are packed with interesting facts and superbly written. The Nanavati case and the rise of the Blitz in the 1950s also reads like a thriller. Gyan Prakash manages to evoke the era through his words and superb selections of other colonial authors' descriptions.

Perhaps in tandem with the city itself, Gyan Prakash's writing loses its romance as he comes closer to the current times. The chapter on the failure of attempts at modern town planning in the 1960-70s reads like a dreary government report. And the chapters on the riots and bomb blasts offer nothing more than a summation of news reports. Even worse, he spends an entire chapter on Doga comics trying to wring out some meaning as if they were Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. And another half chapter on a series of paintings by Namita Devidayal explaining in each painting in words - as hopeless an exercise as mumbai's town-planning itself.

Overall, like Bombay itself, the book doesn't really live up to its glamorous and alluring promise. It begins with a glorious dream to share the true, unknown story of the city by the sea and wakes up into a pointless mess of dull concrete structures.
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By Chloe on February 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book that provides snapshots of Mumbai's past lives! with a novelist's eye for detail, Prakash excavates the stories that helped shape the myths of the city and its legendary excess. His archive includes not only historical sources but comic books, filmic imagery, paintings, poetry, architecture and literature about the city and he paints a rich mosaic of the colorful inhabitants and their dreams for it. I loved the fact that it showed just how messy Indian modernity really is and yet, without romanticizing it, there are collective aspirations and dreams here that every global citizen can identify with. This is the kind of urban social history we need - no boring graphs and tables, but comic characters and urban architects intelligently analyzed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had not read any historical books earlier. Recently when I was having an argument with a friend about Mumbai, I realized that I didn't know much about Mumbai 's history. One of my friend suggested this book to me.
The book is very nicely written, traces Mumbai's history right from the days of Portuguese. It talks about how the seven island turned into single Mumbai, the rise of Parsi merchants, the cotton mills, the chawls and bungalows. It traces the emergence of many great writers of the city, rise and fall of communists, proliferation of shivsena.
Recommended if you want to read about Mumbai.
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By jagdeesh on February 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Prakash did a great job of making this book accessible to both the layman and the academic. It is full of fascinating stories of Bombay - both fact and fiction - and shows us how fiction often can become the fact.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not finished reading yet, but the chapters I've read are very well written and I learned a lot about the city and culture already.
I recommend this book if you want to know more about the history of this city.
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