A young Indian intellectual’s disillusioning experience of the —romantic— ideas that lure Westerners to the East (and vice versa) is plaintively traced in this well-wrought first novel, a compact bildungsroman graced by ironic echoes of Forster and Flaubert. Samar, a Brahmin college student who acknowledges that he has little life outside the books he compulsively reads, encounters in the city of Benares several acquaintances who, in their separate ways, begin coaxing him out of his shell. Diana West (a symbolic name, n’est ce-pas?), a moneyed Englishwoman in love with India, introduces Samar to her internationally mixed circle of friends—notably, beautiful Frenchwoman Catherine and her lover Anand, a competent (if unexceptional) sitar player. A brief trip into the mountains (inviting comparison with the Marabar Caves incident in A Passage to India) throws the inexperienced Samar and the worldly Catherine together, resulting in the loss of his innocence and of her self-confidence and devotion to Anand. Simultaneously, Samar’s cautious friendship with Ranesh, an enigmatic loner with vaguely political affiliations and perhaps ambitions, introduces him to student demonstrations and overt violence, paradoxically deepening his wish to retreat into —a simplified life and world——embodied in the quickly glimpsed figure of a farm boy tending a herd of cattle. In the novel’s muted second half, Samar is called back home by his father’s illness, wills himself to forget Catherine and the seductive allure of Benares, and begins a career as a schoolteacher—all in a long falling away from the dangers—and rewards—of a life of active involvement with other people’s enticing, intimidating imperfections. Samar’s careful withdrawal from the messes that Catherine, Ranesh, and others have made of their lives is explicitly shown to be a result both of wisdom and of cowardice. A work of admirable subtlety and high intelligence, with an unfortunately low emotional temperature. It analyzes its promising content brilliantly while dramatizing it only imperfectly.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50274-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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