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Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond Hardcover – June 13, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Mishra eloquently expresses his indignation at folly and injustice in these eight travelogues and profiles illuminating the challenge of Western-style globalization in South and Central Asia, where the pull of the West is countered by the politics of nationalism. In "Allahabad: The Nehrus, the Gandhis, and Democracy," Mishra weaves bitter commentary on the postcolonial dynasties into his observations of the "uneven" process of democracy at work during the 2000 elections in the "decaying" North India city of Allahabad. Mishra draws a complex portrait of successful Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt in "Bollywood: India Shining," whom Mishra is prepared to find reprehensible but comes to afford grudging respect. Mishra brings the same eye for character to "Kashmir: The Cost of Nationalism," about the brutal "cycle of retribution" between Muslims and Hindus in the contested region. On meeting a pro-India renegade commander who epitomizes an "unthinking preference for violence and terror," Mishra watches the man's "movie star glamour and... brute power" fall away as the commander demands a "free hand" in dealing with Muslim guerrillas. These instances of vivid description and personal reaction provide moments of clarity in this dense, well-written book (after An End to Suffering). (June)
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From The New Yorker
Mishra, a Hindu, has been accused in his native India of "pandering to white pro-Muslim audiences in the West"a notion that, he points out, was "optimistic" even before September 11th. In this acute survey of South and Central Asia (including Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Tibet), he reports on how countries are facing the crisis of modernization, hobbled by political corruption, poverty, and the abiding hatred of one tribe for another. Particularly illuminating is his chapter on Nepal, which, despite a veneer of regular elections, has long been mired in a battle between monarchy and Communism, both anachronisms in the West. Mishra cautions us not to underestimate "the rage and despair of people who, arriving late in the modern world, have known its primary ideology, democracy, only as another delusion."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is recommended to anyone who wants a honest, on-the-ground view of things.
I recommend this book for those naive Westerners, like Thomas J. Friedman, who think "shining India" is the focal point of the modern world. Not quite.
Such objections aside, the book provides a provocative insight into the complexities of the Indian subcontinent, with some helpful historical background and some fascinating first-person encounters with people involved in the events of the period during which the author did the journalistic investigation that was built into it.
As the events of the area are even today matters that should concern U.S. citizens, Mishra's book, for all its faults, is useful background reading, since much of what he describes is STILL being played out, disastrously for all concerned.
We get a history of Indian/Pakistani Politics since 1948 from his experiences. We get a simple understanding of how India has florished while Pakistan has floundered. Of how the Congress party of Nehru and the Gandhi's have been overcome by the rise of Hindu Nationalist parties like the BJP.
He visits the Kashmir and we can see how it became India's Northern Ireland with the exception that both sides are armed with nuclear weapons. The Troubles there are similar but the killing is magnified 10 fold as no human rights groups manitor the Indian nor the Pakistani armies for human rights violations.
We get a glimpse of the Bollywood scene in Mumbai. How it is similar to the Holywood Studio system of the 40's(maybe the 30's as each film seems to have a song and dance number). We get an understanding of what is acceptable on film in that culture and why there was such a hue and cry recently over Richard Gere's kiss in public.
Mishra's strength is that he lets his subjects tell the story of their lives and how the World has changed around them. His most compelling sections are where he relates his own life experiences. I recommend the book as an excellent glimpse into the cultures of South Central Asia.
This book is at the standard of the best non-fiction by VS Naipaul, though I find Mishra's take on Hindu nationalism to be more accurate than the Nobel laureate's.