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All About H. Hatterr

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  262 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
Wildly funny and wonderfully bizarre, All About H. Hatterr is one of the most perfectly eccentric and strangely absorbing works modern English has produced. H. Hatterr is the son of a European merchant officer and a lady from Penang who has been raised and educated in missionary schools in Calcutta. His story is of his search for enlightenment as, in the course of visiting ...more
Paperback, 316 pages
Published 2007 by New York Review Books Classics (first published 1948)
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Stoner by John  WilliamsChess Story by Stefan ZweigThe Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy CasaresA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard HughesThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson
New York Review Books - Classics
191st out of 427 books — 536 voters
1984 by George OrwellAnimal Farm by George OrwellThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Stranger by Albert Camus
Best Books of the Decade: 1940's
344th out of 475 books — 853 voters

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Community Reviews

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Feb 23, 2014 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Short review - This is bona-fide Shandian Spawn, full of wonderful textual fun and games, an early entry in the Indian post-colonial literary movement, and a bloody riot of words.

It is subtitled:

Being also a mosaic-organon of life, viz., a medico-philosophical grammar as to this contrast, this human horseplay, this design for diamond-cut-diamond...H.Hatterr by H.Hatterr

And, for your delectation and enjoyment, here is a lengthy quote from the start of the text which I found online. If you are
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis


'Melodramatic gestures against public security are a common form of self-expression in the East. For instance, an Indian peasant, whose house has been burgled, will lay a tree across a railway line, hoping to derail a goods train, just to show his opinion of life. And the Magistrates are far more understanding...' --Anglo-Indian writer

Indian middle-man (to Author) : Sir, if you do not identify your composition
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I am through reading this book. Now I will go back to its first page. I will start searching and copying by hand, with my pen and my Kama Sutra journal where I keep similar treasures.

I have seen several novels already with a lot of word plays. Some engage in word plays with apparent uncaring whimsicality; others deliberately seek obscurity to confound the readers and be talked about. This one does neither. The author Govindas Vishnoodas Desani(1909 - 2000)--haha, couldn't resist putting his year
Aug 04, 2012 Razi rated it it was amazing
He is back, back in the print, back in literary discussions and back to his madcap adventures, H Hatterr is back. The Good Ol' Daddy of Indian novel in English, the one who added 'post' to the colonial, who took the micky out of everything in the ocean of humanity called India and moved on, crossed the ocean and found himself in "Blackpool, Lancs. The most unimaginable hell-hole I had ever unimagined." I read this book about 15 years ago when a friend lent me his precious but decomposing and ...more
A layered and complex text that launches a scathing critique aimed at both colonial India and the British Empire via picaresque, pseudo-18th century philosophical treatises, mimicry, doomed spiritual journeys, and a magnificent hybrid language that often matches the heights of Joyce’s wordsmithery (and to which Salman Rushdie is admittedly indebted). A powerful postcolonial argument, it’s also, perhaps, the funniest book I have ever read thanks to H. Hatter’s series of (mis)adventures throughout ...more
Katherine Furman
Feb 25, 2008 Katherine Furman rated it did not like it
I don't get this book. I heard so many great things about it, but I kept reading it and reading it and never once cared even a little bit about it. So I stopped after about 200 pages. This is what I get for listening to the New York Times Review of Books.

The problem is that this book's beauty is supposed to be in the words and not the plot, and I generally don't like books like that. Give me a story, not a poem. It was supposed to be hilarious, but I never got the joke. Some of the situations w
Dec 19, 2007 Melanie marked it as to-read
"Imagine a schnockered Nabokov impersonating The Simpsons' Apu while reeling off tales of an Anglo-Indian Don Quixote, and you get some sense of Desani's wacko masterwork—a hilarious mix of slapstick misadventure and philosophic vaudeville, voiced in a manic Hindu-accented English so jagged and dense it makes you dizzy. A 1948 bestseller in England, sporadically reissued since then, and now in the NYRB home of the almost-forgotten, the author's only novel follows the idealistic naïf H. Hatterr ...more
Jul 22, 2011 Taleem rated it it was amazing
The greatest English language novel from an Indian writer. Yes, its even better than Rushdie's Midnight's Children. First heard of this jewel back in 2003. Have read it several times since then. Couldn't believe this is Desani's only novel!!!.....English language writers from India barring Rushdie and maybe Amitav Ghosh can polish Desani's shoes......check this website out
Jeffra Hays
Dec 24, 2011 Jeffra Hays rated it it was amazing
Nothing no book that I know of is anything like this. English is crunched up and tossed out reformed -- into hilarity. When it is so obvious that the author is enjoying his verbal antics, the reader has to enjoy too. If you like your fiction 'spoon-fed' don't go near this. But if you love wacky with underlying true tongues in cheeks, cheers!
Oct 12, 2015 Tallulah marked it as could-not-even-finish
Anirban Nanda
Apr 18, 2016 Anirban Nanda rated it it was amazing
It is matter of utter despair that a book like this, of such caliber and quality, is long forgotten. This is the first major attempt to break the pure English and mix it with oriental colloquial. Desani did something for Indian literature as Joyce did for Irish literature. Though Desani never wrote another novel, and though he published few short stories and a poem (Hali) apart from this, he was immediately recognized by the likes of T.S. Eliot and Saul Bellow.

This novel is essentially a polyglo
GV Desani: All About H Hatterr Nilanjana Roy review

There are literate, widely-read booklovers in this world who have not read All About H Hatterr. I know of their existence; I have even met some, but the thought that they exist is chilling. It’s like meeting people who have never read Tristram Shandy, or Gormenghast, or found themselves hallucinating, as Hatterr fans do, about swamis and multiple exclamation marks.

This has nothing to do with literary snobbery. GV Desani’s 1948 classic appears wi
Harry Rutherford
Jun 26, 2009 Harry Rutherford rated it liked it
Shelves: asia
All About H. Hatterr is a novel I bought after seeing it recommended somewhere — the complete review, I think. It is a modernist novel written in 1948 in a colloquial Indian English laced with bits of slang, Shakespeare, legal jargon and so on. I’m not in a position to judge the relationship between the language of the book and the English of India, but Salman Rushdie is quoted on the back cover:

Hatterr’s dazzling, puzzling, leaping prose is the first genuine effort to go beyond the Englishness
Dec 19, 2014 Nelson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another one of those less-often-read than it should be somewhat obscure classics. Almost everything that the subcontinental magic realists do (Rushdie, foremost among them) was pulled off in terms of sheer linguistic facility several decades before by the all-too-imitable G. V. Desani. The novel details the (mostly mis-) adventures of one H. Haterr. Most of these encounters ends with him naked or nearly so in some utterly compromising situation--perhaps the most entertaining of which involves a ...more
Stephanie Marie
Jan 05, 2010 Stephanie Marie rated it really liked it
Shelves: global-novels
"This is the Twentieth Century! This is the Medical Man's Century. No sentiment, no dog-cat or Romeo-Juliet imaginative stuff, but realistic brutal true-to-life pictures! What dam' use is there in reading what the Stratford-on-Avon feller wrote so long ago, and is himself dead and gone? Besides, hell, they say Bacon did it! I tell you, the Bacon-Shakespeare pictures won't tally with Life today! I know Life. I have experience..."

Some of the most gorgeously textured words to come out of modern lit
keith koenigsberg
Jun 02, 2008 keith koenigsberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A tour de force, one of the great obscure books of all time. Desani wrote this wildly funny short novel in '48, a post-colonial Indian shaggy dog story. You will immediately recognize that you are reading something new here. The language is a paste-up, a farrago, a dog's dinner of the "'babu English,' the semi-literate, half-learned English of the bazaars, transmuted by erudition, highbrow monkeying around, and the impish magic of Desani's unique phrasing and rhythm into an entirely new kind of ...more
Pawan Mishra
Dec 14, 2015 Pawan Mishra rated it it was amazing
Desani is a master of language, wit, and absurdity! Almost every sentence in this book is a masterpiece.

The book takes us through a magical journey that Hatterr embarks on -- spiritual search of truth through hilarious examination of eastern & western worlds.

It's a difficult book as the language can get really ultra-creative at times, yet one of the funniest books I have ever read.
May 02, 2012 Caroline rated it really liked it
Shelves: indian
Amazing play with language. Desani throws references to literary works from every culture into this, with puns, foreign languages, linguistic gymnastics and outlandish scenes. Lots of fun, but also a challenging read.
Chris Holmes
Apparently this is the Indian Ulysses, or Ulysses is the Irish All about H. Hatter; either way, it's a very hard book to get one's hands on. I am thinking about "holding on" to Brown's copy for "a while".
Sep 11, 2007 Macgregor rated it it was amazing


Until a few months ago, even the old trade paperbacks were seventy-five bucks a pop. I miss the old cover art though... caricature of a neatly mustachioed Indian man cradling some books, running naked from a lion.
Jul 25, 2012 Kartik rated it liked it
The book has its moments but, for the most part, I didn't get it despite all the rave reviews. I'll try reading again another day to see if I have a different take on it.
Nov 03, 2010 John rated it really liked it
A Tristam Shandy-esque/Tom Jones-y novel set in India. The language play is quite incredible, but the politics are hard to pin down. Read quickly, will probably have to return.
Apr 26, 2010 Alastair rated it liked it
At first I was totally into into the playful maelstrom of language. Eventually it got to be a bit much. I look forward to re-reading it in about a decade, when I think it will seem much funnier.
Autumn Sabo
Nov 03, 2010 Autumn Sabo rated it liked it
A very odd, interesting book but slow reading because of the language - Brit/Indie/40s talk. I got SO CLOSE to finishing this...but who knows where it is now.
May 18, 2010 Aishwarya rated it it was amazing
This was glorious. Irreverant and clever and just full of joy because the English language exists and that AAHH gets to exist within it. It made me incredibly happy.
May 26, 2008 Bob rated it it was amazing
Deserves every bit of its billing as must-read lost Anglo-Indian Joycean classic - truly original and very funny.
Karan rated it it was amazing
Sep 18, 2012
Hashi rated it it was ok
Aug 24, 2015
Oct 13, 2008 Sean rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lion tamers, bums and philosophers
An extremely curiously weirdly goofy yet erudite sort of novelish thing. I liked it.
Tim rated it really liked it
Jan 07, 2008
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NYRB Classics: All About H. Hatterr, by G.V. Desani 1 11 Oct 18, 2013 12:49PM  
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Govindas Vishnoodas Desani or G. V. Desani, (1909–2000) was a Kenyan-born, British-educated Indian writer and Buddhist philosopher. The son of a merchant, he began his career as a journalist, and achieved fame with the cult novel All About H. Hatterr (1948), considered one of the finest examples of literature in English and a novel that compares favourably with Joyce's Ulysses. He was for a time a ...more
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