62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
A Fascinating Work On a Fascinating City,
This review is from: City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (Paperback)
This book, 90% informative and 10% humorous, equals 100% reading enjoyment. It's a delightful and entertaining history of Delhi, India told in a very ingenious way: it runs in reverse pattern from conventional history books in that it starts with the most recent history first and then gradually works back into time, ending in the ancient. However, what I enjoyed the most was how the author always introduces some present-day aspect (an existing ruin or a living person) as background material on which he weaves his historical journey in and out of Delhi's past and present. For example, a Dr. Jaffrey is his link to the Red Fort; a now very old Indian-born English woman, Alice, describes her associations with Lutyens, the creator of New Delhi; a Pakeezah Begum, a crown-princess and librarian, is one of the last surviving descendants of the Mughal emperors and becomes the modern-day connection to history of the Mughal dynasty; and the very decrepit Residency tells you about Delhi's romantic past in the era when it was beautifully intact.
I don't know why, but to me the most poignant stories told were about the Anglo-Indians who ended up abandoned by both Britain and India after the birth of an independent India. I never realized such unfortunate people existed, becoming political refugees denied rights by India, the country of their birth; and by the UK, to which they had blood ties. Mr. Dalrymple interviews a few of these people who by now have grown old and are the living remnants of hardball politics of a bygone era. They give their personal accounts of their own hardships. As victims abused by the system, they were denied basic privileges. These interviews are still quite vivid in my memory.
In the midst of all the daunting history of this city, Mr. Dalrymple intersperses his daily experiences in the form of funny stories about his landlady and apartment; plus he pokes fun of the heat, the noise, the traffic, the driving--all the typical Indian imageries that have been branded in our minds. While these did add diversion to the detailed history, my one fault with the book is that these incidents happened to be the same-ole, stereotypical situations that have been run to the ground about India. I was disappointed that he didn't exert a more pioneering in spirit and come up with more original subjects. Nevertheless, he has a natural talent for describing comical situations (or do I mean describing situations comically?). In spite of this one criticism, I ended up with big smiles on my face many times. And his prowess at transcribing the English spoken in India to the tee can't help but put a grin on your face.
In summary, this is an excellent read just for the sake of learning about a fascinating place. I especially recommend it for history buffs and I heartily recommend it to familiarize yourself with Delhi if it's on your list of travel destinations. I can honestly say that after reading City of Djinns, I most definitely will invest my next time in Delhi looking into some of the sites and districts brought to life in this book.
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Initial post: Jun 3, 2010 11:08:08 AM PDT
Manu Anand says:
Though you forgot mentioning about my favorite character.. Balvinder Singh
The mere mention brings smiles...
Thanks for the review..
Posted on Aug 22, 2010 4:36:51 PM PDT
MARTHA GRAHAM says:
Wonderful review! I have actually known two women who were Anglo-Indians born in India at the time independence was granted. I can hardly wait to read the interviews you mentioned, because the stories of my two friends were riveting and because I was just into college when I met both of them, it was my first acute experience with the hard realities of nationalistic politics. Next came Cry the Beloved Country, and I've been off and running ever since. You would probably enjoy Ibn Khuldun.
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