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Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond Hardcover – June 13, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374173214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374173210
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,765,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Sollami on October 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The problem with journalistic sketches such as these is that they are forever becoming obsolete. Since many of these essays take the reader only to 2004, one is left wondering, for instance, what is happening today in Bollywood, with India's BJP party, in Kashmir, in Musharref's Pakistan, and in Nepal and Tibet. Events in these parts of the world are moving faster than Mishra can write about them. But the great value added here is Mishra's untangling of the tortured web of historical events and personalities from which India, Kashmir, and Pakistan stumbled their painful way into their current predicaments. Often one is left trembling with despair. For instance, Mishra gives us a detailed retelling of the decades of ubiquitous injustices and murders rampant in Kashmir. And the deeply solidified hatreds and passions that have emerged from the power-hungry ambitions of men throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, from the British on, leave one feeling hopeless for any reasonable resolution to the India/Pakistan Muslim/Western miasma engulfing us today. Indeed, one wonders at the subtitle of this book, "How To Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond." It seems to be something of an ironic joke, since Mishra is never at a loss to point out the hypocrisy of corrupt Indian "modern" politicians who live in a self-imposed bubble and ignore the suffering of millions. He also gives us an insider's look at Bollywood's lightweight "modern" movie stars and movie makers whose financial backing comes from criminals. And in general he sees the cup here as definitely more than half empty. Perhaps that viewpoint is from his many interviews at the ground level, with the suffering masses, the pathetic, powerless victims, and the poverty-stricken illiterate.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
If you don't care about the title, then this is a very readable book and, Mishra is a good writer. It informs you about the people and places that Mishra visits; albeit in a somewhat cynical way. The problem arises when you start dissecting the book. You wonder if Mishra really has any expertise to write about places like Nepal, Tibet, Afghanisthan, Pakistan etc. It seems that his expertise is really in the underdeveloped Hindi belt, and surroundings of North India, an area which is quite removed from the modern world. Then what is this title all about? To find real stories about the temptations of the West, shouldn't one be digging in South India?

Coming back to the book, Mishra raises some soul searching issues about the failure of Democracy on one hand, and the tendency of the emerging Hindu middle classes to mutedly tolerate violence against minorities. Both of these issues are heavy topics that need to be covered thoroughly, with the one-on-one perspective that Mishra has.
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Format: Paperback
Pankaj Mishra writes like he is having a long and detailed conversation with you. After spending a few weeks reading this book, I feel that he is a close member of my social circle. He is a true journalist - he does not preach, he allows you to draw your own conclusions. His facts will knock your socks off. This is stuff we never hear in our world of Fox News.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved The End of Suffering, Mishra's previous book, which looked at the progress of the historical Buddha in northern India 2500 years ago. Mishra effectively intertwined autobiographical details with that story, and he does the same, to powerful effect, in this closely observed look at nationalism, extremism and modernity in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Afghanistan. Mishra conveys what it feels like to be a citizen of the countries he visits, whether it's the aspiration and anxiety of movie industry hangers-on in Bombay or the bleak outlook of a family in the crossfire of Afghanistan.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
The title appears to derive from André Malraux's 1926 The Temptation of the West, though I'm not sure why. Regardless of its provinence, the title (especially the subtitle) is inaccurate, and has confused better and more educated readers than I. It would more accurately be titled Essays on Strife in the Subcontinent. This would have the virue of accuracy, as well as alerting the reader that this is a collection of essays that are not well-integrated. The 1-page preface promises something the book doesn't deliver, and is highly inadequate as a device to unify the book. Mishra's overall project would have been much better served by a chapter-length preface that provided contexts for each piece and showed how each fit into and supported his contention. I still might have disagreed that he had demonstrated his point, but I would have had a better sense of what he thought he was demonstrating. This doesn't mean that the essays aren't sometimes interesting or useful, but that they neither fit the title nor cohere; as such, Mishra does not reach the audience he intends.

I was expecting a more socioanthropological text, but this a largely a collection of essays on politics. Mishra says these essays "seek to make the reader enter actual experience: of individuals ... and of the traveler" (i), but this goal is not realized by a number of the essays, which often offer page after grueling page of facts about Indian political history, for example, with no subheadings, no citations, no index, no individual or traveler narratives, and a certain amount of jumping around and repetition. The lack of an index is particularly annoying and makes the book useless as a reference should one want to use it for background when reading other authors of the subcontinent (Jhumpa Lahiri, for example).
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