India in Mind
Edited by Pankaj Mishra (Vintage, 352 pages) You get a lot of variations on the idea of "contradiction" in these 26 essays. Since 25 of the authors are of non-Indian descent, that famously tired analysis of the subcontinent oh, the poverty! oh, the beauty! oh, the simplicity! oh, the elegance! oh, the contradictions! gets trotted out frequently. Yet, given that these essays were written by the likes of Mark Twain, Paul Bowles, George Orwell and other literary heavyweights who began the codification of that myth, it's not only forgivable, it's actually enlightening. Mishra did a fabulous job of mixing a healthy dose of quirky, insightful pieces (Bruce Chatwin's "Shamdev: The Wolf-Boy") and dewy, post-Victorian luxuriousness (E.M. Forster, natch) with just enough of the wide-eyed, what-the-fuck-planet-did-I-just-land-on amazement that permeates so much Anglo-American writing about India.