Skip to main content

Simon Winchester’s Calcutta by Simon & Rupert Winchester

Genre: Non-fiction, portrait of a place
Year of publication:2004
Subject: Calcutta (India) at various times and through various eyes

Simon Winchester is one of those authors whose books I love to read. He is a good writer and chooses interesting subjects to write about, whether he is writing about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary and one of its most prolific submitters, or about his own walk through South Korea. Therefore I was pleased to discover that he had edited and partially written a book about Calcutta, a city that brings up various images on one’s mind: of impressive mansions and sprawling slums, wide boulevards and narrow, rambling alleys, of fancy cars and human-powered rikshaws driving down the same roads, of splendid riches and grinding poverty existing side by side.

I haven’t been to Bengal yet, and so haven’t had the opportunity to visit Calcutta and form my own opinion of the place, but the viewpoints presented in the articles, essays, poetry and excerpts in this book combine to bring the city to life in one’s mind and give an idea of what it is like, although I expect the actual experience will be quite different (and a lot smellier).

The authors whose writings appear in this book include the Winchesters and authors I am familiar with, like William Dalrymple, Rudyard Kipling, James (Jan) Morris, V.S. Naipaul , Paul Theroux and Mark Twain and also authors I have heard of but nor read anything by, like Rabindranath Tagore, Günter Grass, Geoffrey Moorhouse and Dominique Lapierre. Authors I wasn’t familiar with include N.C. Chaudhuri, Buddhadev Bose, Peter Holt and Alan Ross.

None of them are indifferent to Calcutta. Some love it, some dislike it, most have a sort of love-hate relationship with it. The portrait that emerges is that of a place so intense and so full of contrasts and contradictions that it is impossible to be indifferent to it. People who know Calcutta could doubtless point out writings that should have been included but weren’t, and might pick out errors or mis-statements, but for someone who hasn’t been there, it presents an interesting and colourful portrait of this mega-city.
4 stars.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Reading report for January 2014

Here it is, finally: the reading report for January. (February‘s report is in the works: I have it entered into Excel and I just need to transfer it into Word, edit the layout and write the preface. It will either take a couple of days or a couple of months).

I finished 26 books in January, although admittedly a number of them were novellas. As I mentioned in my previous post, I delved into a new(ish) type of genre: gay (or M/M) romance. I found everything from genuinely sweet romance to hardcore BDSM, in sub-genres like fantasy, suspense and mystery and even a quartet of entertaining (and unlikely) rock star romances. Other books I read in January include the highly enjoyable memoir of cooking doyenne Julia Child, two straight romances, and Jennifer Worth‘s trilogy of memoirs about her experiences as a midwife in a London slum in the 1950s. I also watched the first season of the TV series based on these books and may (I say 'may') write something about this when I have finis…

Stiff – The curious lives of human cadavers

Originally published in November and December 2004, in 4 parts. Book 42 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Mary Roach
Year published: 2003
Pages: 303
Genre: Popular science, biology
Where got: amazon.co.uk

Mom, Dad, what happens after we die?

This is a classic question most parents dread having to answer. While this book doesn’t answer the philosophical/theological part of the question – what happens to the soul? - it does claim to contain answers to the biological part, namely: what happens to the body?



Reading progress for Stiff:
Stiff is proving to be an interesting read. Roach writes in a matter-of-fact journalistic style that makes the subject seem less grim than it really is, but she does on occasion become a bit too flippant about it, I guess in an attempt to distance herself. Although she uses humour to ease the grimness, the jokes – which, by the way, are never about the dead, only the living, especially Roach herself – often fall flat. Perhaps it’s just me, but this is a serio…

How to make a simple origami bookmark

Here are some instructions on how to make a simple origami (paper folding) bookmark:

Take a square of paper. It can be patterned origami paper, gift paper or even office paper, just as long as it’s easy to fold. The square should not be much bigger than 10 cm/4 inches across, unless you intend to use the mark for a big book. The images show what the paper should look like after you follow each step of the instructions. The two sides of the paper are shown in different colours to make things easier, and the edges and fold lines are shown as black lines.


Fold the paper in half diagonally (corner to corner), and then unfold. Repeat with the other two corners. This is to find the middle and to make the rest of the folding easier. If the paper is thick or stiff it can help to reverse the folds.



Fold three of the corners in so that they meet in the middle. You now have a piece of paper resembling an open envelope. For the next two steps, ignore the flap.



Fold the square diagonally in two. You…