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The Elephanta Suite: Three Novellas Hardcover – September 26, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618943323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618943326
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,840,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The dismayed, disoriented American travelers in this trio of stereotype-shattering novellas from Theroux (following Blinding Light) lament the missing solemn pieties and virtuous peasants of the India they read about in novels. In Monkey Hill, a wealthy ugly American–type husband and wife take pampered health spa treatment at the foot of the Himalayas to be their due. But when the couple presume that the sybaritic care they're paying for includes invitations for sex with masseurs and waiters, their idyllic holiday takes a tragic turn. In The Gateway of India, a fast-track Boston capitalist finds his loathing for the squalor of Mumbai's slums tempered by how easy it is to buy the affections of young women; meanwhile, his once obsequious Indian assistant is usurping his power. In The Elephant God, a college graduate on her own encounters a young man whose call-center mastery of American dialect somehow rewires him from overly friendly striver to malevolent stalker. These unsettling tales about American travelers at odds with India's complexities are linked through passing references, but what they share most is a transformative menace that takes the place of spiritual succor. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

With The Elephanta Suite, prolific travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux wins favorable comparisons to Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. This suite of three novellas explores the gritty reality of American tourism in India: the book is not for those readers who seek another sunny portrait of an exotic land. As The Washington Post noted, "Theroux isn’t likely to bring many new tourists to the subcontinent." As with much of Theroux’s fiction, sexual and economic exploitation is the dominant theme, and the dark center of the human soul is his subject. Even those reviewers who judged the stories’ endings unsatisfying praised The Elephanta Suiteâ€"a master travelogue told by a master storyteller.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading "The Elephanta Suite" by Paul Theroux, was a pure delight--virtual nonstop literary pleasure! Each novella transported me on an exotic sensual journey through an India few get an opportunity to observe. Everything about these stories was unexpected and new. This was one rollicking armchair adventure ride.

In three, roughly 80-page mininovels, Theroux doesn't give us the sanitized Merchant-and-Ivory India. He doesn't give us the tidy India of best-selling contemporary novels. Rather, he exposes us to the real underbelly of Indian culture. This is an India of pleading beggars, teenage prostitutes, weirdly comic salesmen, and people so pompous they are like parodies. Most of all, this is an India where poor people are as abundant as fleas and virtually every one will do almost anything to get one tiny step ahead.

Each of the novellas deals with American travelers. The stories are superficially interlaced. These travelers are in India at approximately the same time. In odd ways, their paths cross. It is amusing to discover these completely unimportant connections, so I won't say any more. If you discover them, pat yourself on the back and know that you are a careful reader. If you miss them, don't worry: these connections are of absolutely no importance.

The first novella, "Monkey Hill," tells the tale of a wealthy American couple who vacation in India at a luxury retreat. They only see the real India from the window of their limousine as they are rushed from the airport to their lush hilltop health-spa retreat.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Neil Cotiaux on January 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It isn't often that a novella is anchored to a backdrop of economic globalization. Put that together with Theroux's consummate ability to weave one wonderfully descriptive tale after another and you've got magic.

For years, Theroux has been castigated by a variety of critics who've claimed that he is everything from a racist to a crank engaged in creating stylized and unflattering caricatures of peoples in far-off lands. "Elephanta Suite" proves that the author is an equal opportunity character assassin, as adept at exposing the self-deceptions of an American dealmaker in Mumbai as he is the boorish Indian with a newly-formed American accent feeding off of an Electronics City call center. Theroux is damning or sympathetic to all walks of life throughout this breezy read, which once again highlights his ability to create a genuine, almost palpable impression of a given moment, whether it be the claptrap Indian motorcoach rambling through the countryside or the too-quiet alley at dusk where a crisply uniformed young girl permits herself to be exploited.

Of the three tales that Theroux masterfully weaves, "The Gateway to India" is by far the most moving, and thought-provoking. I happened to read much of it while in Manila, and, experiencing the stark contrast between the gleaming shopping meccas and financial district of Makati and the street urchins hawking their wares vehicle-by-vehicle during rush hour, the undercurrent of the unfair bargain and sometimes mutual unease between contractor and contractee in globalization (see Theroux's vivid juxtaposition of the word "spat" at the top and bottom of page 100) made this story's central character all the more distasteful.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoy reading fiction that depicts modern day India. This group of three novellas is right up there with the cream of the crop. There's nothing romanticized about the India depicted here. As you read, you really get the feeling, "This is probably the way India really is." There were many times when I wondered to myself, "How does someone become such a sharp observer as Theroux is?"

I was amazed both at Theroux's command of the language, and how extremely sharp he is at bringing out the telling detail that really gives you the feel of the place and the person described. There are a lot of unsavory characters here. And yet Theroux describes them so well that I always felt their humanity and got a clear sense of why they were doing what they were doing. That put me in touch with their humanity and created a sense of sympathy, in most cases. Though there were one or two slime bags that I could never like, though, thanks to Theroux's genius, I could understand them.

I was amazed by this book. If you are interested in modern day India as well as enjoy just plain masterful writing, then you will treasure this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The JuRK on October 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"If India had a human face, it was that of a hungry skinny girl, starved for love, famished for money."

Or so a divorced American businessman believes when he ventures out of the Elephanta Suite and experiences the misery and availability of women in modern India (if you could call much in India "modern").

Americans in a strange land, the loss of identity, the authentic voice of not only someone who's been there but also one of intimate experience--these have always been the strengths of Paul Theroux's best writing, and "The Elephanta Suite" does not disappoint.

"The Indian novels she'd read in the States had not prepared her for what she saw here. Where were the big fruitful families from these novels? Where were the jokes, the love affairs, the lavish marriage ceremonies, the solemn pieties, the virtuous peasants, the environmentalists, the musicians, the magic, the plausible young men? They seemed concocted her now, and besieged in up-close India, all she thought of was Hieronymus Bosch, turtle-face crones, stumpy men, deformed children."

Whether it's a businessman who (temporarily) loses himself in the girls for sale, a middle-aged couple of Western consumerism who treat every aspect of an Indian spa as part of their menu, or, in my favorite story, the young American girl whose spiritual quest becomes an ugly fight for justice against entrenched intimidation, Theroux not only weaves compelling tales but gives the reader a honest, warts-and-all look at India. I have read almost all of his books and can attest to his observations on places I've been, so he can be trusted (to put it mildly!).

"Not a journey anymore, not an outing or an interlude, but seeing the world; not taking a trip, not travel with a start and finish, but living her life. Life was movement."

Be prepared: this is a great and illuminating read!
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