Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Age of Kali

It seems strange reading The Age of Kali now. Written as contemporary reportage in the mid- to late-1990s many of the events and personalities he covers have moved to centre stage while others have faded into obscurity.

Dalrymple is a brilliant writer and he has clearly immersed himself in India and all its chaotic glory. He seeks out fascinating stories; and by talking to people from all levels of this intensely stratified society he creates vivid pictures of events, issues and personalities that have shaped its recent history.

The best chapters illuminate and anticipate the momentous changes still underway in Indian society, which most other commentators are only now beginning to notice and come to terms with. However, the book doesn't feel cohesive or complete. I found myself wanting to know more of the history and background; and yearned for him to fill in the gaps between these individual stories.

The problem is that all the material had already been published in various newspapers and magazines and while many of the pieces have been reworked or expanded for the book, they still display off-putting variations in tone and style which make it far more disjointed than I felt it should be. The pieces for Tatler and Condé Naste Traveller sit uneasily alongside the more in-depth and interesting work for Granta and The Observer.

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