THE BOOK OF LOVE by James McConnachie


The Story of the Kamasutra
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Scholarly investigation into the history, purpose and context of the notorious ancient Indian text and its entry into Western society through the efforts of a few Victorian eccentrics.

Although modern Western audiences tend to reduce the Kamasutra to a mere sexual-position manual, the contorted, gymnastic poses so firmly associated with it had no place in the original; such illustrations weren’t added until centuries later. Nor, to the dismay of its American readers in the late 1960s, does the text unlock the spiritual secrets of tantric erotica, for that tradition emerged much later as well. As first-time author McConnachie reveals in urbane prose, the history of the Kamasutra is a lesson in misrepresentation. Western readers, he writes in one of his strongest sections, consistently approached the book as a reliable source of information about modern, not ancient, Indian sexuality. Its translators, editors and publishers used the Kamasutra to signify whatever they needed it to mean, adding and excising material to better embody each generation’s vision of sexuality. The original, written in the third century by Indian philosopher Mallanaga Vatsyayana, contained much broader social instruction, intended to provide an encyclopedia of pleasure for the young, aristocratic male. McConnachie’s insightful scholarship restores to the Kamasutra its full history, presented in an easily readable chronology. He focuses primarily on Richard Francis Burton, the work’s Victorian-era champion, but crucial chapters at the beginning outline the Kamasutra’s early history and its literary progeny, while later pages hint at its divisive and changing role in modern Indian culture. McConnachie’s treatment of the rediscovery and reentry of Vatsyayana’s erotic “bible” into India seems incomplete, but perhaps that subject would fill another volume by itself.

Thorough textual genealogy offering the delights of a page-turner.

Pub Date: May 27th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8818-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2008