Archive for November, 2011

Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

November 28, 2011

Siddhartha’s Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned offers a profile of the new, ever modernizing India through an in-depth look at five career paths. Some of his chapters focus on individuals, such as a business education guru that may be running an elaborate ponzi scheme and a woman from the conflict-weary north east of India trying to make it as a waitress in Delhi. Others look at multiple people in the same line of work, such as migrant workers who take on dangerous jobs and suicide-prone farmers. Deb spent significant time in India interviewing people for his book and shows up vividly as a character throughout the different narratives.

Overall, I found the emphasis on individual stories both enlightening and limiting. In a country of over a billion people, it is often easy to overlook individual stories and hardships, and Deb does a good service in framing India’s struggle in modern times as the struggles of individuals. Nonetheless, Deb has a negative take on modernization throughout the book that is certainly reflected in the stories he finds, but one wonders if fell into the classic trap of simply finding what he was looking for. In terms of gaining substantial insight into the changes India has undergone in the last few decades, I think one is better off picking up Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India.


Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities

November 28, 2011

Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities is a vivid story about greed, class, crime, and the justice system set in New York City in the 1980s. I must confess that this is the first novel by Wolfe that I’ve ever read, an omission primarily due to my dislike for excessive use of exclamation points. That difference aside, once I got into the book, I found Wolfe’s writing style incredibly engaging as he conjured up nearly palpable images of a rough and tough, grimy, seedy city.

The plot of the book revolves around Sherman McCoy, a rich resident of the upper east side who tries to take too big of a bite out of life and ends up as the poster child for a justice campaign in the Bronx criminal court. Many other compelling characters pepper the pages, including a drunk but promising British journalist, a cunning mistress, a corrupt Harlem pastor, and an unfulfilled district attorney. The story captures many aspects of NYC in the 1980s and is definitely a must-read for anybody who lives in the city. Reading it I was often struck by how much has changed in the last twenty-five years and yet how much hasn’t┬áreally changed at all.