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Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

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Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond Cover

ISBN13: 9780374173210
ISBN10: 0374173214
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A vivid, often surprising account of South Asia today by the author of An End to Suffering

 

In his new book, Pankaj Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on travels that are at once epic and personal. Traveling in the changing cultures of South Asia, Mishra sees the pressures—the temptations—of Western-style modernity and prosperity, and teases out the paradoxes of globalization. A

visit to Allahabad, birthplace of Jawaharlal Nehru, occasions a brief history of the tumultuous post-independence politics Nehru set in motion. In Kashmir, just after the brutal killing of thirtyfive Sikhs, Mishra sees Muslim guerrillas playing with Sikh village children while the media ponder a (largely irrelevant) visit by President Clinton. And in Tibet Mishra exquisitely parses the situation whereby the Chinese government—officially atheist and strongly opposed to a free Tibet—has discovered that Tibetan Buddhism can “be packaged and sold to tourists.”

Temptations of the West is a book concerned with history still in the making—essential reading about a conflicted and rapidly changing region.

Review:

"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Book News Annotation:

Mishra (a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books) combines travelogue with political and economic reportage in this tour through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, and Nepal. For each place he visits, he turns to a different aspect of the recent experiences of these modernizing countries. In Mumbai he investigates Bollywood and the burgeoning Indian middle class, Ayodhya is discussed as a symbol of extremist Hindu nationalism, Kashmir is the jumping off point for an examination of the Indo-Pakistan conflict, and Pakistan is talked about in light of the relationship between the American Central Intelligence Agency and global jihadism. Also examined are the results of the US war in Afghanistan and the Maoist rebellion in Nepal. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

 
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
 
In Temptations of the West, Pankaj Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on journeys through South Asia, and considers the pressures of Western-style modernity and prosperity on the region. Beginning in India, his examination takes him from the realities of Bollywood stardom, to the history of Jawaharlal Nehru's post-independence politics. In Kashmir, he reports on the brutal massacre of thirty-five Sikhs, and its intriguing local aftermath. And in Tibet, he exquisitely parses the situation whereby the atheist Chinese government has discovered that Tibetan Buddhism can be "packaged and sold to tourists." Temptations of the West is essential reading about a conflicted and rapidly changing region of the world.

Synopsis:

In his new book, Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on travels that are at once epic and personal as he sees the pressures of Western-style modernity, prosperity, and globalization on a rapidly changing region.

About the Author

PANKAJ MISHRA was born in north India in 1969. He is the author of An End to Suffering and The Romantics (which won the Los Angeles Times’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction) and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books.

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Shoshana, January 11, 2008 (view all comments by Shoshana)
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). The lack of citations makes it impossible to evaluate Mishra's contentions or to understand where they fit in the broader discourse of Indian-Pakistani relations, for example.

I am troubled as well by the notion of "temptations of the West" as ostensibly illustrated here. Histories of other Asian countries demonstrate considerable strife, brutality, abuse of power, corruption, and lack of respect for others' welfare emanating from and enacted by the colonial powers of the East long before Western colonization and influence. I am willing to be convinced, but Mishra does not take up the argument that this is a Western phenomenon rather than a universal one. The question of how to modernize in a way that integrates two cultures rather than subsuming one is vital and fascinating. However, Mishra generally does not address it, which was my greatest disappointment in a book that I thought would have this issue as a major focus.

The only "temptation" I can spot is Mishra's often-repeated concern that colonial powers offer education but there are then no jobs for the people who have been educated. This is an important and realistic concern, but one that might have been best served by an historical comparison, if one exists, to the relationship between education and vocation under colonial China, for example. As it stands, and without context, Mishra's complaint sounds like an indictment of providing education to the prolitariat. I assume that this is not what he intends, but that is how it reads without further elaboration.

Each essay in and of itself is interesting (though some are long, dry slogs for a reader who was not expecting 10-page recitations of historical facts between encounters with "individuals" or "the traveler"), but suffers from the reader's ongoing question of what each has to do with "temptations" or "the West." I am sure that I am missing a great deal here; Mishra's writing is highly regarded and taken seriously enough that he is the focus of some bitter disputes. For a reader with no or little background, however, it is hard to see what is special or interesting about Mishra's ideas. Though I read a great deal of history, and am conversant on several broad topics in Asia's political history, I cannot help but think that had this book's marketing been more accurate, I would not have picked it up. Having picked it up and read it in its entirety, I am incredibly frustrated by Mishra's lack of an orienting frame. By all means, read this if it looks interesting to you, but read 20 pages before you buy it to be sure it's what you think it is.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780374173210
Subtitle:
How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond
Author:
Mishra, Pankaj
Publisher:
Picador
Subject:
Description and travel
Subject:
Civilization
Subject:
Asia - General
Subject:
Asia - India & South Asia
Subject:
Human Geography
Publication Date:
20070612
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8.5 x 5.5 x 0.75 in

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Related Subjects

Travel » Asia » India
Travel » Travel Writing » Asia

Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond Used Hardcover
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Product details 336 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374173210 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by ,
 
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
 
In Temptations of the West, Pankaj Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on journeys through South Asia, and considers the pressures of Western-style modernity and prosperity on the region. Beginning in India, his examination takes him from the realities of Bollywood stardom, to the history of Jawaharlal Nehru's post-independence politics. In Kashmir, he reports on the brutal massacre of thirty-five Sikhs, and its intriguing local aftermath. And in Tibet, he exquisitely parses the situation whereby the atheist Chinese government has discovered that Tibetan Buddhism can be "packaged and sold to tourists." Temptations of the West is essential reading about a conflicted and rapidly changing region of the world.
"Synopsis" by , In his new book, Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on travels that are at once epic and personal as he sees the pressures of Western-style modernity, prosperity, and globalization on a rapidly changing region.
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