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Chowringhee Paperback – January 2, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'I lost myself in it for days... A wonderful experience - both gripping and moving.' --Vikram Seth

About the Author

Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherji) is one of Bengal's most widely read novelists in recent times. He is also the author of several non-fiction bestsellers, including a biography of Swami Vivekananda. Two of his novels, Seemabaddha (Company Limited) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman) were filmed by Satyajit Ray. He lives in Calcutta.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 9 edition (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014310103X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143101031
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charles D. Klingman on November 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
"Chowringhee" by Mani Sankar Mukherji is destined to be viewed as a classic of world literature, just as it is already viewed as a classic of Indian literature. Written in Bengali, with a superb translation into English, this book tells the story of the group of individuals who work in and operate an exclusive hotel in Calcutta. The novel focuses on the characters, in a style reminiscent of Dickens, with emphasis on their individual personalities rather than on an external event.
The novel effectively creates a sense for the reader that the characters are all well-understood actual human beings, with the strengths and weaknesses that pertain to real human beings. We come to laugh and share the emotions of the characters. This novel deserves a much wider readership.
The novel would benefit from a glossary at the end for the quite few terms unique to India that are used. In addition, a reading guide would be useful as this would be a good selection for a book club.
The translator Arunava Sinha deserves special commendation for his efforts.
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Format: Paperback
The setting of this novel is Chowringhee, a neighborhood in Calcutta, in the mid-1950s. The narrator, Shankar, is an ambitious young man who finds himself out of a job with an English barrister, and is barely surviving by selling wastepaper baskets door to door. As he sits in a neighborhood park, pondering his past and fearful of what the future holds for him, a friend of his passes by, who is shocked by Shankar's descent into poverty. He tells Shankar that he can get him a job at the Shahjahan Hotel, one of the city's oldest and most venerable hotels, as the hotel manager is one of his clients.

Shankar is immediately befriended by Sata Bose, the hotel's chief receptionist, and after a brief stint as a typist, Shankar becomes Bose-da's main assistant and close confidant. The manager, Marco Polo, takes a liking to him as well, and young Shankar is given more responsibilities by both men. The novel revolves around the guests, entertainers, and frequent visitors of the Shahjahan, but several members of the hotel staff get equal billing in Shankar's narrative. We learn about the seamy underside of the elite of Calcutta, whose greed, shady deals, and shameful behaviors are initially shocking to our naïve young man, but he soons become jaded and disgusted by them. The poverty of working and jobless Calcuttans is vividly portrayed, as those not in the upper echelon are only one stroke of bad luck away from living in the streets or in dilapidated hovels. Love is a central theme, amongst the guests and workers, with often tragic results.

Chowringhee was a very entertaining and light-hearted though tragic read, which richly and effectively portrayed the struggles, joys and frustrations of the different strata of mid-20th century Calcutta.
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Format: Paperback
This is the first-person story of young Shankar Mukherjee (a slight variant on the real name of the author, and there is at least one autobiographical element in the book). He must have had some special quality that made people be kind to him in a world in which otherwise kindness is in short supply. He is treated kindly by an English barrister for whom he works as a clerk. When the barrister dies, he loses his job, and scrapes a miserable living for a while as a salesman of baskets. A kind acquaintance then gets him a new job at the Shahjahan, the most luxurious hotel in the Chowringhee area of Calcutta. The hotel staff is run in such a way that inferiors are kept on their toes by those higher up in the hierarchy, who in turn are obsequious to their superiors for fear of losing their job. Yet Shankar's immediate superior, the chief receptionist Bose (quite a philosopher and, like Shankar, well read in Bengali and Euorpean literature), could not be kinder to his new and naive recruit, and even the choleric and manager, Marco Polo (there is quite a story how he came to have that name), who deliberately terrifies the entire staff, makes an exception of him and treats him with kindness.

What Shankar learns about the staff and of the guests in the hotel is the main theme of the book and provides a kaleidoscope of many individual stories and stories within stories, some entertaining, some very sad, some more interesting, some (in my opinion) very much less so: I found it quite hard to persevere to the end of the book, which circles back to conclude stories near the beginning of which I had quite lost track.
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