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The Immortals Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 25, 2009
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“Amit Chaudhuri is one of India’s most distinctive literary figures. While lesser writers obsess over the heat and dust, he charts the by-ways of the Indian soul . . . The Immortals is a memorable work–capacious, multi-faceted but intimate, it is Indian to the core but universal in its implications . . . [It is a] superb new novel . . . Handled with great sensitivity and wit . . . Masterful.”
“The Immortals is an important novel . . . There is a filigreed, Jamesian quality to Chaudhuri’s work, an urbanity and aesthetic style not often associated with Indian fiction . . . In Chaudhuri, we get an intense moral and psychological realism, a honed treatment of the fleeting specificities of everyday life.”
–Times Literary Supplement
“An entertaining, engaging read . . . Chaudhuri is a master of social comedy . . . And what a cast of humankind is conjured up.”
–Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
“Chaudhuri’s particular art lies in rendering beauty from normality. His characters linger in the mind; and his prose, with its exactness and elegance, its exquisite delineation of memory and emotion, has a strange, mesmerising grace.”
“A graceful tale by a writer whose fiction is as beautiful as a classical ballet . . . There are so many reasons for liking this delicate human comedy of a novel . . . It is as if we are unofficial tourists being given an unofficial eye hole to look through . . . [This is] a book that not only brings India to life, it considers all life and all endings.”
“The lyrical quality of Chaudhuri’s writing is striking. The imagery is vivid, the humour deliciously oblique . . . The great strength of the novel is the truthfulness of the emotional landscape . . . It invites honourable comparison with Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks.”
–The Times (London)
About the Author
Amit Chaudhuri is the author of several award-winning novels and is an internationally acclaimed musician and essayist. Freedom Song: Three Novels received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. He is a contributor to the London Review of Books, Granta, and The Times Literary Supplement. He is currently Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia.
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Top Customer Reviews
Unusually, this is not a book heavily laden with India's politics and religions. People, their families and the vagaries of life are explored in 'The Immortals'. The book explores the relationships between the lower upper class and the upper lower class.
The practicalities of the voice teacher's life are set against the idealism of the privileged student. Through these two main characters, and their families, the author draws us into the Bombay of thirty years ago.
The story flows smoothly throughout and the low-key style of writing made it seem as if this was the real world with real people. Music is the 'glue' of the story that ties the characters together.
The book has the obligatory native words, but no glossary. This is not particularly a problem, but can be disconcerting to readers unfamiliar with Indian literature. Most can be figured out by the context and none are critical to the understanding of the story.
This would be a good introductory book to Indian fiction. Chaudhuri makes you comfortable with a place and people that are unfamiliar to Western readers. Give this one a try.
Despite these minor hurdles, I ended up enjoying the book, mostly because of the snapshot it provides of a culture in transition. Through its various characters the author explores the role of classical Indian music and culture in Bombay as business and Western culture invades, and as Indian pop culture develops in its own right. In addition, the insights about art in general, and particularly on the difference between Western 'self-expressive' art/music and classical Eastern 'religious' art/music, were very intriguing to me. And as the main character develops an interest in philosophy and metaphysics, that becomes a platform for probing the relationship and differences between Western and Eastern philosophy also.
So to me, it's a heady book, and a thematic one, but a good read if you are interested in either classical or contemporary Indian culture, or both.
Music is the thread that ties this book together, and Amit Chaudhuri knows his stuff. He is, himself, a composer and musician and the meticulous detail and grand amount of exposition is clearly written by a man who has inhabited the world he creates.
This is a populous novel; it's easy for the reader to lose his or her way in the first 50 pages, and indeed, in other places in the book when many characters are introduced and obscure musical terms are freely used. It demands close attention to the text. Those who surrender to the text will be rewarded with lush language and a complex emotional landscape.
The key character, Nirmalya Sengupta, is the teenage scion of a corporate father who enjoys all the trappings of the Indian nouveau riche. Not unlike many teenagers, he is trying to find his own way with the judgmental zeal that only the privileged can exude. With his long hair, grungy goatee, torn kurta and earmarked copy of Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, Nirmalya is a purist: he dreams of classical music and softly condemns his mother Mallika, an excellent singer, for "selling out" to commerce over art. He is also more than a little naïve and spoiled: "Nirmalya had never known want; and so he couldn't understand those who said, or implied, they couldn't do without what they already had."
His guru Shyamji, is from the Brahmin caste; his father was a famous classical musician, but he has squandered his artistic inheritance by tutoring and enabling the dreams of the wealthy. Nirmalya might claim he "sold his soul" by straddling the two distinct worlds of classical versus popular music. The juxtaposition of Nirmalya and Shyamji sets up an intriguing premise: who should be granted more respect, the "upper born", artistically-gifted guru or the newly-wealthy who are now, for all intents and purposes, his employers? What is the relationship between commerce and art and how does it "play out" in reality?
Mallika - Nirmalya's mother -- ponders this diachtomy: "Mallika had wanted recognition, that pure woebegone desire for a reward for her gift had accompanied her life from the start but never overwhelmed it; but she hadn't wanted to dirty her hands in the music world; she's wanted to preserve the prestige of being, at once, an artist and the wife of a successful executive. She knew, with an uncomplicated honesty, what her worth was; to what extent would she compromise or to which level stoop if others pretended not to."
There are flaws. The greatest is that at times, the demand for familiarity with Indian music - particularly classical music - can be disconcerting or even downright frustrating to the reader. A glossary or short introduction would have been immensely helpful. Still, The Immortals is a fascinating look at the Bombay of 30 years ago -- a Bombay that existed in pre-boom India. Most of all, it's a meditation on how - or if - art and commerce interconnect through astute observations that are both precise and insightful.