William Dalrymple has proved himself to be one of the most perceptive and enjoyable travel writers of the 1990s. His first book, In Xanadu
, became an instant backpacker's classic, winning a stream of literary prizes. City of Djinns
and From the Holy Mountain
soon followed, to universal critical praise. Yet it is India that Dalrymple continues to return to in his travels, and his fourth book, The Age of Kali
, is his most reflective book to date.
The result of 10 year's living and traveling throughout the Indian subcontinent, The Age of Kali emerges from Dalrymple's uneasy sense that the region is slipping into the most fearsome of all epochs in ancient Hindu cosmology: "the Kali Yug, the Age of Kali, the lowest possible throw, an epoch of strife, corruption, darkness, and disintegration." The brilliance of this book lies in its refusal to reflect any cultural pessimism. Dalrymple's love for the subcontinent, and his feel for its diverse cultural identity, comes across in every page, which makes its chronicles of political corruption, ethnic violence, and social disintegration all the more poignant. The scope of the book is particularly impressive, from the vivid opening chapters portraying the lawless caste violence of Bihar, to interviews with the drug barons on the North-West Frontier, and Dalrymple's extraordinary encounter with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Some of the most fascinating sections of the book are Dalrymple's interviews with Imran Khan and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, which read like nonfiction companion pieces to Salman Rushdie's bitterly satirical Shame. The Age of Kali is a dark, disturbing book that takes the pulse of a continent facing some tough questions. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk
From Library Journal
Lately, books on India by British writers have proliferated, but the accounts by Darymple (From the Holy Mountain; City of Dijnns) are incontestably some of the best. In Indian mythology, the Age of Kali is characterized as one of darkness. The 19 essays in the Age o f Kali, which have never been available in the United States, portray the Indian subcontinent (including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean) in the 1990s. The essays offer a wide range of interesting portraits, from a chief minister who is not upper caste, a village social worker who triumphs over reactionary forces, and a Hindi rap megastar. Dalrymple's account is most readable when he shows without simplification in the disparate elements and challenges faced on many fronts, and it is essential reading for anyone interested in the Indian subcontinent. With the publication of The Age of Kali, Lonely Planet is reissuing In Xanadu (originally published in a 1989 Vintage edition), which won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award. In this travelog, Dalrymple retraced Marco Polo's route from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Kubla Khan's summer capital in Xanadu, entering China without a permit. His purpose was to describe the places and people he encountered on the road and interweave them with historical flashbacks to Polo's time. In Xanadu is recommended for public libraries, while The Age of Kali is suitable for both public and academic.-Ravi Shenoy, North Central Coll. Lib., Naperville, IL.
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