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English, August: An Indian Story (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 4, 2006
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Chatterjee's story centers around a recent college graduate named Agastaya Sen. Known to his friends as August and to his family as Ogu, Agastaya lives the dissolute, carefree life of the privileged in Delhi, his father being the Governor of Bengal. Unfortunately, his mother, a Catholic from Goa, died from meningitis when Agastaya was just three years old, so he was raised largely by aunts. He passes seemingly effortlessly through college, acquiring a hybrid Western/Indian lifestyle that includes ample quantities of alcohol and marijuana. His major goal in life is simply to be happy, to live contentedly and not be bothered, and certainly not to fall into the rut of commuting to an office, working, commuting home, and then rising the next day to do it all again until he dies.
Having successfully achieved a high score on the national examinations for government service, however, August consents to a position in the Indian Administrative Service and a posting to a distant country town named Madna. Once there, he begins a training period and proves himself to be a heroic shirker of work, an incorrigible pot smoker, a compulsive freeloader, and an almost pathological liar.Read more ›
The author wrote "English, August" a few years after he joined the IAS, so he must have known what he was writing about. I've asked a few IAS officers whether they liked his book. They didn't. Well, I loved it. I first read it in 1999, not long after taking up a diplomatic post in Chennai. I was blown away by the laugh-out-loud satire of Indian bureaucracy and small-town life. I loved the perfect descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of India. I owed the book a lot: it helped me organize my reactions to India and its officials. I even recommended it to other American foreign service officers who could relate to the stories of cultural dislocation and bureaucratic inanity.
I've now read "English, August" a second time. Once again I laughed out loud at the tales of job-shirking, pot-smoking, and solitary sex. But this time, not needing to use the book as a guide to India, I was more touched by the story of Sen's alienation and loneliness, of his struggle to make sense of life. Any thinking person who was horrified by his first "real" job after college will identify with the story. It may be set in India but the themes are universal.
I'm sure I'll read the book again in 10 years. I'm looking forward to finding out how it speaks to me then. Six stars.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If I could, I would have given this 3.5 stars; saying that I like it is a little of an exaggeration. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
Second reading and enjoying it more even than the first time. This is an Indian novel written by an Indian man brought up post "Raj" and it brings a wonderful insight into... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Raymond A. Souza
I do not remember the last time I burst of laughing out aloud while reading a book. This book got me high with out the copious amounts of weed the protagonist partakes.Published 10 months ago by S v
So funny. It's hard to figure out why, exactly, but the main character has an attitude that pulls you in and the world feels so real.Published 18 months ago by Michael Karpa
Hard to give a star rating for this book. Just because it's not for me, doesn't mean it is not a good book. I tried. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Nelda Brangwin
This book, written in English, was published in 1988 and was the author's first novel. In it, a well-educated, well-connected young man from Calcutta took up a post in a provincial... Read morePublished on August 31, 2008 by Reader in Tokyo
Thank God this has been published in the US. As rude as a turnip and side-wrackingly funny.Published on January 20, 2008 by Hans Sebald Beham
This is quite a pleasant read and the author has quite a funny turn of phrase, but overall the book is nothing special. Read morePublished on February 17, 2007 by Benjamin Simmons