Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Portrait of the New India

by Siddhartha Deb

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-86547-862-6
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A frank look at modern India, told through the stories of its most hopeful and its most desperate people.

After working undercover in an Indian call center as part of a journalistic assignment, novelist Deb (Creative Writing/New School; An Outline of the Republic, 2005, etc.) asked himself a very simple yet loaded question: Who am I? Where do I fit in this modern-day India? It’s this query that spurred the author to begin his quest; over five years, he assembled a somewhat coherent portrait of this jumbled country of contradictions. The book tells the story of five different people, from a man Deb likens to Jay Gatsby because his wealth is tainted by the suspicion of his fellow Indians, to a factory worker who works a dangerous job with no benefits or compensation in case of injury. Each of his subjects comes from a different part of India, with dissimilar backgrounds and disparate fortunes; each has experienced hardship on some level. These stories are sometimes droll and always have at least a tinge of tragedy. Deb impressively chronicles the dichotomies that exist within India while keeping the narrative intensely personal. He puts a human face on horrific statistics that are so large as to be incomprehensible—e.g., from 2004 to 2005, “the last year for which data was available, the total number of people in India consuming less than 20 rupees (or 50 cents) a day was 836 million – or 77 percent of the population.” Though the book lacks an overarching narrative to tie these stories together, which can make it a difficult read at times, Deb briskly moves the story along. The author successfully argues his broad points about India’s status as a country of opposites while maintaining the reader’s personal connection with the people in it.

 With passion and grace, Deb deftly paints a vivid picture of the difficulties and dichotomies facing the people of today’s India.