Book Reviews

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Over the past four decades, Paul Theroux has produced over two dozen works of fiction and half as many travel books. His latest work of fiction, "The Elephanta Suite," is comprised of three novellas set in modern India.

Here's our reviewer, Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE: Theroux's opening novella, "Monkey Hill," takes us to a lavish, Ayurvedic health spa in the foothills of the Himalayas, where wealthy American entrepreneur Audie Blunden and his wife, Beth, have settled in for a time. At the outset of the story, the Blundens have just caught sight of the millions of monkeys who come to the hill to watch the departing light. Before too long, the monkey business this jaded couple engages in at the spa will lead them to disaster in a nearby town.

The middle novella, "The Gateway of India," keeps us in Mumbai's elegant air-conditioned suites and soiled back alleys. There, young Boston businessman Dwight Huntsinger discovers the enormous financial potential of the Indian subcontinent, and that he's not the man he thought he was.

Alice, the young American backpacker in the third novella, "The Elephant God," goes to work teaching her U.S. accent to Indian employees at a large Bangalore call center and makes a discovery of her own, that it's okay to be alone. As Paul Theroux tells us, "You went away from home and moved among strangers. No one knew your history or who you were. You started afresh, a kind of rebirth. Being whoever you wished to be, whoever you claimed to be was a liberation." That doesn't stop one of Alice's students, a chubby Indian fellow named Amitabh, from chasing after her and coming to a bad and somewhat melodramatic end.

In fact, each of the endings to these wicked little novellas seems somewhat problematic. But that's not enough to stop me from recommending "The Elephanta Suite" to everyone with an urge to pack a bag and head for the unknown even while sitting in place.

NORRIS: The book is "The Elephanta Suite: Three Novellas" by Paul Theroux. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. His latest work of fiction is called "The Fires."

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