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The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India Hardcover – August 30, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Splendid . . . Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . Deb works largely within the format of the profile, which allows him to closely inspect the dents made by modern India in his characters' lives. . . There is a nuance to even the direst of Deb's pessimisms--an acknowledgement that India's lives are newly precarious precisely because they could swing either the way of opportunity or the way of ruin.” ―Samanth Subramanian, The New York Times

“Siddhartha Deb is a marvelous participatory journalist, a keen observer of contemporary India. In The Beautiful and the Damned he dives head-first into the places where change is happening, temporarily inhabiting these evolving, often confusing sub-worlds, talking to those benefiting from (and victimized by) said changes, and explaining in prose both highly personal and sociologically insightful how India's people and culture are coping . . . Much like fellow participatory journalist George Orwell . . . Deb is a distinctly sympathetic firsthand observer of the contradictions between rich and poor . . . Anyone wanting to understand contemporary India's glaring contradictions, its juxtapositions of glittering boomtowns with horrific slums, should read Deb's wonderfully researched and elegantly written account.” ―Chuck Leddy, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[An] incisive new look at life on the subcontinent . . . One of Deb's most stunning achievements is the way he deconstructs India's IT industry. With remarkable clarity, he describes a business dominated by Brahmins (India's ruling caste) in which, contrary to common perception, call center workers struggle to eke out a sustainable living, and where even for those who do succeed there lies at the end of the road little more than an ersatz version of suburbia . . . For those who have never been to India, the book will be an eye-opening read. For those more familiar with the country, it will be essential.” ―Nitin Das Rai, The Daily

“This brave book strikes a rare note--as a work of journalism and as an interpretation of India's maladies. The Beautiful and the Damned digs beneath the self-congratulatory stories India tell itself--all the better to expose the stories it seeks to repress.” ―Parul Sehgal, Bookforum

“This is a brilliant and sensitive book that succeeds in shifting our gaze from the dazzling glass and steel towers of the business park to the collateral damage suffered by people caught in the age-old tensions between economic mirage, constricting cultural tradition and overbearing social expectation.” ―Stanley Stewart, The Sunday Times

“In his subtle, sometimes startlingly intelligent narrative, Deb is drawn to the idea of pretence, and to pretenders, of which he--writer, confidant, friend, provincial, global traveller--is one himself . . . In these pages, Deb is quickened by his extraordinary feeling for the texture of lower middle-class life, as well as his unerring sensitivity to the way a country yet again transforms itself.” ―Amit Chaudhuri, The Guardian

“A compelling read. The author's experience as a journalist ensures that he hardly wastes a word, his local knowledge gives him depth and empathy, while his status as a novelist seems to protect him from intrusive literary flourishes . . . While computer boffins may be the new Brahmins, many of them are actually the old Brahmins. Such points are generally overlooked by those keen to promote the newness of the new India, and Deb generally offers a shrewder, more humane perspective than most travelogues.” ―Roderick Matthews, Literary Review

“Siddhartha Deb has gone under cover to write a hands-on account of India's vigorous capitalism . . . Deb's perception is that starkly unequal social, political and economic conditions have developed in India over the past quarter century. As a first-hand report, this is authentic, assured and absolutely engrossing, acutely pinpointing the aspirational tragic-comic ironies of modern India.” ―Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)

“Siddhartha Deb is one of the most distinctive writers to have emerged from South Asia in the last two decades.” ―PANKAJ MISHRA, author of The Romantics

About the Author

Siddhartha Deb, who teaches creative writing at the New School, is the author of two novels: The Point of Return, which was a 2003 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and An Outline of the Republic. His reviews and journalism have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, New Statesman, n+1, and The Times Literary Supplement.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 56609th edition (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865478627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865478626
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,393,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Arun Sundararajan on October 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book. It takes the reader through five narratives of contemporary India, painting a vivid portrait of a country in transition. I'm really impressed with the clarity with which Deb accomplishes this and would rate this book as far more informative (and written in much better prose) than any other book about the ongoing socioeconomic transformation in India. It's not nostalgic, it doesn't romanticize the country or pay tribute to any specific cities: it focuses on the people (an impressive variety of them), not the places or the practices.

(Perhaps this was not the author's intent, but if you're planning to do business in India, or have been assigned to travel there on work, read the first two essays, they give you a good idea of the rich tapestry of Indian aspirations. While I grew up in India, I have lived in the United states for over 15 years, and although I travel to India every couple of months for work, it is hard to see the range of what this book tells you even if you are a frequent visitor.)

The nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald goes beyond his choice of title: the first narrative draws explicit parallels between Arindam Chaudhari and Gatsby, the nouveau rich outsider with a questionable academic past. But Deb is not simply more readable than Fitzgerald, he also rises to the challenge of describing a far more complex society, and one that is going through fairly radical change. It is hard to peg this book as being of a specific "type". There's a mix of relevant history and astute social observation, and a good range of context. Perhaps it is a very readable ethnography, one that anyone interested in India should read. I couldn't put it down once I started it. Then I read it again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is about the India that is rapidly changing and the Indians that examplify the changing India. The author has picked great characters that tell the story: call center workers, social activists, tycoons, etc. The themes are hope, aspiration, dislocation, and cynicism. It is a wonderful idea for a book that certainly ought to be of interest to anyone who wants to know about the current state of a vast and complex country (and a dynamic economy)---not as a recitation of statistical facts but as in-depth portraits of people on the ground. However, the writing style is novelistic rather than journalistic. There are many asides and reflection; and these diversions are somewhat repetitive and, after a while, self-evident and even slightly trite. It seems that the author is just a bit too ready to impose his voice rather than artfully letting his subjects tell his own strories, which would have been evocative and engaging even if treated with a light touch. Still a book worth the time; but not a sparkling read because of its pretension to be literature.
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“The Beautiful and the Damned” by Siddhartha Deb, who grew up in India, lives in the US, wrote the book right here on a Radcliffe fellowship, and often returns to “the new” India. He wrote two novels and has the story-telling ability of a novelist, but these stories are real: He spent four years recently being with and interviewing people in India about their lives and work: business entrepreneurs, software engineers, farmers, migratory factory workers, and women in service jobs (likely a page turner for you---their lives). I really think it tells the story of all humanity today, with all people’s hardships, hopes, differences, partial triumphs, and disappointments. And with it the poignant West-East confusions.
And for students:
This book is NOT a novel. It is an account of real life, based on four years of connecting and spending much time with real people, not fictional. But Deb can tell a story, so his accounts are very readable, like you’re “right there”. And yes, he does interlard his journalistic dialogue with personal and even political impressions, but there is nothing “texty” about the book---it’s more like a movie. But I’ve had a lot of experience in different parts of the world with different kinds of people, and with some understanding of regimes. So this book fleshes out the globally typical circumstances and lives of representative people of different classes, especially those who are mobile: classwise, culturally, and geographically. In other words, yes, it directly illustrates “conflicts in India” as well as “reflecting on problems worldwide”. I would recommend it as an “on the ground” companion reading for texts you may have been assigned.
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Format: Paperback
Getting inside the lives of a disparate group of individuals as a method of revealing how the changes in Indian society are impacting people across the economic spectrum has the potential to result in a great book. Conceptually I felt the author was really on to something and I enthusiastically began this read. However the style of writing and the characters he reveals never really engaged me. About halfway through I was bored by the frequent digressions and the lack of any real depth of what motivates these people. I think overall this was a well conceived but poorly executed idea. I don't regret reading it but it was ultimately forgettable.
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