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Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found Hardcover – September 21, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 131 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bombay native Mehta fills his kaleidoscopic portrait of "the biggest, fastest, richest city in India" with captivating moments of danger and dismay. Returning to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) from New York after a 21-year absence, Mehta is depressed by his beloved city's transformation, now swelled to 18 million and choked by pollution. Investigating the city's bloody 1992–1993 riots, he meets Hindus who massacred Muslims, and their leader, the notorious Godfather-like founder of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, Bal Thackeray, "the one man most directly responsible for ruining the city I grew up in." Daring to explore further the violent world of warring Hindu and Muslim gangs, Mehta travels into the city's labyrinthine criminal underworld with tough top cop Ajay Lal, developing an uneasy familiarity with hit men who display no remorse for their crimes. Mehta likewise deploys a gritty documentary style when he investigates Bombay's sex industry, profiling an alluring, doomed dancing girl and a cross-dressing male dancer who leads a strange double life. Mehta includes so-called "Bollywood" in his sweeping account of Bombay's subcultures: he hilariously recounts, in diary style, day-to-day life on the set among the aging male stars of the action movie Mission Kashmir. Mehta, winner of a Whiting Award and an O. Henry Prize, is a gifted stylist. His sophisticated voice conveys postmodern Bombay with a carefully calibrated balance of wit and outrage, harking back to such great Victorian urban chroniclers as Dickens and Mayhew while introducing the reader to much that is truly new and strange.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Modern Bombay is home to fourteen million people, two-thirds of them packed into neighborhoods where the population density reaches one million per square mile. Its official name is now Mumbai, but, as the author points out, the city has always had "multiple aliases, as do gangsters and whores." Mehta, who lived there as a child, has a penchant for the city's most "morally compromised" inhabitants: the young Hindu mafiosi who calmly recollect burning Muslims alive during riots twelve years ago; the crooked policeman who stages "encounter killings" of hoods whose usefulness has expired; the bar girl, adorned with garlands of rupees, whose arms are scarred from suicide attempts. Mehta's brutal portrait of urban life derives its power from intimacy with his subjects. After clandestine meetings with some of Bombay's most wanted assassins, he notes, "I know their real names, what they like to eat, how they love, what their precise relationship is with God."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670049212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670049219
  • ASIN: 0375403728
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It was with great delight when I found by accident this sizeable book on Bombaby. My delight only increased when I started to read. Suketu Metha was taking me into a world that I had long wondered about but had never been able to visit. His book, Maximum City, is easily the best book on 20th Century India that I have ever read.

It is not written as a typical travel book. The format is to take major aspects and dominant personalities of the city and give them each a detailed, richly woven chapter. You'll learn about the quirks and numerous pitfalls of Bombay housing and how the Renter's Act has made everything much much worse. You'll meet the head politician who seems to view Bombay as his personal fiefdom. You'll meet an amazing police detective who is unique on the police force in that he is the only one who won't take bribes, and you'll even sit in on a number of torture sessions of criminals. You'll meet a whole lot of people who kill people for hire, as well as members on police force who kill criminals because the courts didn't do their jobs of prosecuting them (that reality was drop jaw amazing). You'll meet some of the top women in the Bombay beer bar/sex scene, as well as an engineer who gave up a promising career to become a poet living on the Bombay footpaths. The list goes on.

As I read this book, I was amazed at the people that Metha got to agree to give him a good chunk of their time, allowing him to develop a vivid flesh and blood portrait. To top it off, he is an amazingly good writer, who has a great sense of humor (I guffawed out loud several times as I read this book) while casting an unblinking eye on filth and corruption so deep that you feel like you're going to choke on it.

Maximum City is truly a fascinating book to read. Anyone who is interested in either India or the phenomenon of the modern city can't help but love this book.
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Format: Paperback
I actually agree with a lot of the reviews written on this book, especially in terms of the specifics they have captured on what works in this book and what does not. The purpose of this review thus is only to either reiterate the key points briefly, or to add a couple of new ones.

0. Context setting: I lived in Bombay for 6 years, hope to never live there again, but am fascinated by it, and can't read enough about it. I wasn't directly exposed to either the underbelly or the glamour of Bombay, but was definitely aware of it - something you can never avoid if you live there. My perspective is thus much more middle-class, which I think would be the broadest perspective on Bombay.

1. Bombay is a city begging to be written about, and despite the almost sudden rise in interest in writing about this city, there are still only a few one can really read, so Suketu's attempt is a welcome addition.

2. Suketa's heart in the right place, but his execution is confused. He clearly wants to capture the heart and soul of Bombay, but seems to be limited by his obvious journalistic and dispassionate style. At times the city gets the better of him and he lets go, but not often enough. This is in my opinion is the biggest drawback of the book - it's just stuck somewhere in between an extended non-fiction journal piece and a string of stories linked together by the theme of a city.

3. The book is way too long. Enough people have already pointed this out, so I won't belabour the point, but really, the obsession with writing about the Mafia is totally tedious. If that was what the book was intended to be about, I would have no complaints, but it wasn't, and I think it's unfair to devote half the book (directly or indirectly) to this subject.

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Format: Hardcover
This is definitely not a tourist guide to the sunny and acceptable side of the teeming and monstrous city of Bombay. Suketu Mehta, an American transplant, decided to return to his hometown and investigate its endless and often horrific underbelly - the world that the vast majority of its inhabitants have learned to live in. Underlying Mehta's general coverage of poverty, overcrowding, crime, ethnic conflict, and black market economics are in-depth character sketches of people surviving the dark side of Bombay. My favorite portion of the book covers Mehta's time with a forlorn exotic dancer that he calls Monalisa, while he also delves deeply into the lives of crime lords, street thugs, a harried police detective, a budding poet living on the streets, and even a family of Jain monks, all of whom have stories that would rarely if ever be told in more upscale narratives. This all makes the book unexpectedly harsh, vulgar, violent, and surprisingly fascinating from a human point of view.

The only problem is that Mehta doesn't know when to stop, over-covering his subjects to the point of exhaustion, and occasionally going off on unfocused tangents, such as the story of his involvement in producing a cheesy Bollywood movie. The book mostly managed to keep me interested through all its 500+ pages, as Metha would eventually introduce intriguing new people or situations. But each chapter is usually way too long in itself, and sometimes it feels like the book will never end as you long for Mehta to wrap up one story and either get to the next or just bring the book to an authoritative conclusion. Mehta has created a highly intriguing book about an overwhelming city that would scare away the weak-hearted, but his prose tends to get overwhelming too. [~doomsdayer520~]
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