Synopses & Reviews
Over the past hundred years, India has held an enormous fascination for western intellectuals and artists. Father India
explores the life-changing influence of the subcontinent on western ideas of modernity by narrating the curious, spellbinding stories of a succession of twentieth-century Europeans and Americans. These major culture figures--including Lord Curzon, Annie Besant, E. M. Forster, Carl Jung, William Butler Yeats, V. S. Naiipaul, Christopher Isherwood, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others--acted out their most secret dreams in India.
Troubled by a vague but persistent discontent, most of the characters portrayed in this book journeyed to India seeking a perspective on their own culture from outside it. The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, for example, unable to find within western intellectual tradition an antidote to fascism, scoured India for a different way to integrate an understanding of evil into the human psyche. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to discover a new basis for American politics, incongruously, in India. And V. S. Naipaul came to search for family roots but ended up inadvertently placing the Enlightenment values of individuality, rationality, and progress in a living crucible there.
Gandhi's answer to the question "Why now?" as he observed one westerner after another come to his own ashram, is telling: The contemporary West had misplaced its soul, and pilgrims to India were on a mission to retrieve it. In the process, their unconscious assumptions about politics, religion, and identity in their own cultures were turned upside-down and laid open to question.
"What do you think of western civilization?" Gandhi was once asked. He answered, "It would be a good idea." This book is about a good idea in India, Father India tells the story of those people--Curzon, Besant, Forster, Naipaul, Isherwood, Mirra Richard, and oddly, Gandhi, too, as well as a chorus of minor characters--who attempted to comprehend or even to protect western civilization through India, and of how their successes and failures returned to the modern West a changed understanding of itself.
"I don't quite know how Jeffery Paine has done it-- except by subtle and provocative genius-- but "Father India" is an utterly surprising and indispensible book... Learned... lively... It renders Jeffery Paine's vast knowledge intimately. Father India is a splendid achievement." --Howard Norman, author of "The Bird Artist"
"With wit and relish, "Father India" demonstrates both the fascination-- and the folly-- of seeking to solve the problems of one civilization by adopting solutions suggested by another. It's deftly drawn subjects range from Lord Curzon to E. M. Forster, V. S. Naipaul to Mahatma Gandhi, but their common experience attests to something all western lovers of India know--that no other place on earth has the same power to compel and confuse, delight and mystify." --Geoffrey Ward, author of "The Civil War
"Jeffery Paine's "Father India" is a work of extraordinary scope and quality... Imaginative and unusual... It's pages breathe with the perceptive intelligence of a very good writer and a masterly critic." --John Lukacs, author of "A Thread of Years"
"I admire "Father India" immensely. Jeffery Paine has taken a superb theme, the impingement of India upon the West, and has written a cogent, ramifying meditation on politics, religion, and the exigencies of personality. Like a good conversationalist, Paine intervenes but never obtrudes. It is a continuous pleasure to see such variety of experience justly and perceptively pondered: The strangeness of India is not cooed over--there is no gush--but it is allowed to persist, it is not domesticated or otherwise tamed." --Denis Donoghue, University Professor and Henry James Professor of English and American Letters, New York University
About the Author
Jeffery Paine is associated with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and is former literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly. The author of Father India and Re-enchantment, he has written for most major national publications, and has served as a judge on the Pulitzer Prize committee and as vice president of the National Book Critics Circle. He lives in Washington, D.C.