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Calcutta: Two years in the city

3.41  ·  Rating Details  ·  195 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Amit C. has written a number of fictional books but this is more of a memoir and tells about two years of his life in Calcutta. This is the city he was born in, the home he loved as a child, the setting of his previous novels and now a part of his present (2011. He writes with "rare candor and clarity, making graspable the complex, ultimately ineluctable reasons for his pa ...more
Hardcover, First American Edition, 306 pages
Published 2013 by Borzoi by Alfred A. Knopf
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Mark Staniforth
Aug 12, 2013 Mark Staniforth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From Aravind Adiga’s raucous, Booker Prize-winning ‘White Tiger’, to the much-feted ‘Narcopolis’ by Jeet Thayil and the vibrant reportage of Katherine Boo’s ‘Behind The Beautiful Forevers’, much of the recent, globally celebrated Indian writing has arrived from the point of view of those at the bottom looking up.
While the western appetite for what one might glibly label slum-lit shows no sign of abating, it’s evidently not the whole story from a nation seeking awkwardly to establish itself as an
Arun Divakar
Jun 09, 2013 Arun Divakar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the course of many an idle day dream, I have wondered how it would be to write about Trivandrum from a different point of view. The term different here needs to be qualified as : One tempered by extended time of living in a different part of the world and coming back to stare with wonderment, consternation and nostalgia at the place of one's early years. The tone of this book is along these lines but the backdrop is not Kerala, it is a place that has attracted and irritated me in equal measur ...more
Feb 13, 2013 Anurag rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this recently released book at a shop in Fulham, London. As I read the first chapters, I found myself on a nostalgic trip to Calcultta - a city that was British Empire's capital until 1911 - the metropolis now dilapidated that once shaped India's modern national identity. Without its artists, philosophers, scientists and social-reformers the modern India as we know today would have never existed.

This period of Renaissance however was neither complete nor strong enough to survive in moder
A bit of a frustrating experience at first as you try to figure out what Chauduri's up to and wait in vain for him to come to the point. And yet as you read on you find yourself getting comfortable with those digressions, bits of dialogue, name dropping and nostalgia about his cousin's puja annuals (he mentions them three times!). As Blue says so well he is a mood-setter and not a plot-mover. Keep that in mind and you'll be fine.

Before reading this I'd been to Italy and had been reading a few no
Vivek Tejuja
Feb 19, 2013 Vivek Tejuja rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is not easy to write about a city. Any city for that matter. More so, the city you were born in and then left and then came back again to visit a couple of times, and then left behind almost permanently and then returned. For Amit Chaudhuri, I would like to believe that Calcutta has always been a part of his life (or so it seems from the books that he writes). Everything that he has to say has to revolve around the city or make an appearance some way or the other in his fiction. This time tho ...more
Jul 25, 2013 Blue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never read Amit Chaudhuri's novels, but I can see that he is not a plot-mover; he is rather a mood-setter. Even in his essays about Calcutta, or Kalkota, there is a strong sense of moods shifting, memories languidly slipping through time, objects standing still, and people observing; not much happens other than conversations. Chaudhuri is at times an eager journalist, doggedly questioning everyone from Italian chefs (not to be confused with executive chefs!) to the very poor people who li ...more
I am grateful for this book's existence. My future sister-in-law is from Calcutta and I was to learn about the city's culture. This book introduced me to the bhadrolok and the Bengali Renaissance. I read about Durga Puja and I learned that lots of Bengali names come from the word for light. I learned a bit about the geography of the city, and about how people interact with their servants. The prevalence of disease among the poor broke my heart.

On the other hand, the author is a terrible snob wh
Sairam Krishnan
Dec 31, 2013 Sairam Krishnan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first Amit Chaudhuri novel was 'A New World', a novel I didn't enjoy at all. But the author's reputation persuaded me to give him a second chance, as every reader should give a writer he isn't entirely convinced with the first time.

And I wasn't disappointed. Not at all.

The book starts slowly, slowly gathers pace, becomes terrific reading in the middle parts, and slows down again at the end. When I say slow down, I mean that the author deftly makes you, the reader pause to think and take it al
Mar 06, 2014 umberto rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, india
In my opinion, we could have enjoyed reading this nine-topic book more if we had been familiar with some key political, social and linguistic contexts in which Calcutta was the focal point of the author's narration with interesting viewpoints and sense of humor. Notably, this hardcover's format presentation is finely designed due to its generous blanks between each subtopic marked by three rhombus-like shapes, thus, it was a bit relieving when I could pause for a while after, say, a lengthy deba ...more
Apr 28, 2013 Arti rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just after this book was released, I heard Amit Chaudhury talk about his years in Calcutta, first when he used to spend his childhood vacations and then when he stayed there for two years. I got fascinated and bought the book. He beautifully describes his two years (2009-2011) in the city, after living in Bombay and London, in first person.

Not only has he mentioned about the famous places of Calcutta like the Park Street, Flurys, New Market, Mocambo, Oxford Book Store, the clubs and Melody, he
N Kalyan
Apr 28, 2013 N Kalyan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Globalisation has changed, and is changing, our cities beyond recognition. Because of our still colonial education, which downplays our past, most of us are not even aware of what is being lost. This finely wrought book is a kind of personal history of Calcutta, its people and its epiphanies. Amit Chaudhuri is clear that Calcutta, the grand city of Bengal Renaissance, colonial splendour and Marxist yearnings, is quite dead or only lives on in the memory of those from that time who are still amon ...more
Amit Chaudhuri is a talented writer but this book is one slow starter. If you are not the type to persevere and doggedly get through the first 50 pages then you are going to give up too soon. One thing that I learned is that Calcutta had a communist government for decades. I certainly had no idea that this was the case. It is sort of a mixture of a memoir, history of the city, and a travelog. Calcutta is the home of four and a half million people! What a teeming environment.

The book is like a di
Jul 22, 2014 Meera rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed some chapters of this more than others - I have to admit that I found the politically focused ones more hard going, not being that familiar with Indian politics. It's written in an unusual style, being something of a stream of the author's consciousness, peppered with little vignettes of people he meets who interest him. But I really enjoyed the author's descriptions of being caught in the middle of England and India, and the revelations of life once he has gone back to India. I found ...more
Feb 10, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india
Found this book fascinating - in part because we are going to Calcutta next week! Chaudhuri writes in a chatty tone, so much so that I fantasize giving him a call and being invited to dinner with him and his wife. Calcutta (NOT Kolkata) is the city of his family, childhood vacations, and adult choice. His family are/were part of the educated middle class with a rich heritage. The book includes some history of the city - which is very new by Indian and international standards - but more about dai ...more
Kate Schwarz
I really liked the memories of smells, sights, sounds--all smellier, bigger, and louder in Calcutta than anywhere else I've been--that this book gave me. Chowringee. Howrah Station. Suddar Street. Park Street. Flury's. These places in this city made a big impression on me at a time when I was very impressionable.

That said, Chaudhuri doesn't describe the Calcutta I knew and loved and miss. He mentions Mother Teresa once or twice in passing, annoyed as many people are by the focus she gets. The s
Becca Chopra
Aug 26, 2013 Becca Chopra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amit Chaudhuri makes Calcutta come alive as in a news report, work of fantasy, memoir or political thriller. He writes with poetic emotion, as an emigre revisiting a magical milieu from childhood. In comparing Calcutta of 2009-2011 to the Calcutta of his parent's youth and his own, readers are drawn into the fabric of the city, its people and its politics - complicated, passionate, painted in vivid hues.

Once I began reading and understanding more of modern India and its people, I simply had no c
The Tick
Oct 09, 2014 The Tick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, memoir
I found this book really perplexing. Usually with books like this (I'm thinking specifically of William Dalrymple's City of Djinns and Suketu Mehta's Maximum City, which this book seems to get compared to a lot), the authors in question actually like the places they're writing about. I don't get the sense that Chaudhuri likes Calcutta at all, or most of the people he talks with over the course of the book. It really made it hard for me to enjoy it.
Dave Mills
Hmm. Good book or not so good? Two chapters are quite good: High Tea and Italians Abroad. Otherwise, I think you'll get only a minimal feel for Calcutta
Mr. Chaudhuri loves parentheses and dashes. His sentences don't so much flow as jerk. Often, his incredibly convoluted sentences require several readings to ferret out his intent.
Good thing he teaches literature and not writing or composition.
Feb 24, 2013 Ingrid rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written between 2009 and 2011, during the city's transition from 3 decades of communist party rule to that of Mamata Bannerjee's Trinamool Congress party, this book, in many ways, illuminates the cultural transformation reflected in that political change. It is almost an elegy to the Calcutta of the 'naba jagaran', the storied Bengal Renaissance, capital of British India and its 'bhadralog' bourgeoisie, displaced now by the 'paribortan' symbolised by the change in the city's name to Kolkata. Ami ...more
Mar 28, 2014 Marcus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well written book comparing the present city of Calcutta to the past Calcutta, cultural center of the author's youth. The reader is infused with the sights and sounds of a long vibrant place while having the sense that one is having tea with Amit Chaudhuri.
Carol Hislop
Although I thought the book was interesting, I feel that it was repetitive and over-detailed in parts. For example, the author told us several times about visiting Calcutta when he was a child and I think that better editing would have helped the book to be more concise. At times it felt as though the book consisted of a compendium of individual articles which may have already been published elsewhere-this might explain some of the repetition in the book. I didn't like the last chapter where the ...more
Lucy Angel
Sep 14, 2014 Lucy Angel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember the last time I persisted so doggedly with a book yet disliked it from the start. Not so much a profile of Calcutta as a meandering stream of consciousness from an over privileged, unpleasant human being.

Complaining that their lunch was compromised when their long suffering cook's husband was dying of cancer was pretty much the final straw of any hope I had left for this book.
Avishek Bhattacharjee
Amidst all odds,all darkness,all politics and cultural bandwagon..there is always a silver lining somewhere..this city has offered a lot...
A must read for all bengalis
Grady McCallie
Jul 23, 2016 Grady McCallie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india
I tried. I ordered a used copy of this book, hoping it would provide (as per the jacket) a 'intimate, luminous portrait of Calcutta', a city about which I'd love to learn more. Instead, it offers a kind of peevish memoir, full of uncharitable sketches of people the author has met at various stages of his life. This might be of great interest to someone who has read Chaudhuri's fiction and wants insight into the author himself, but it doesn't fit the bill as an introduction to, or history or soci ...more
World Literature Today
"Covering approximately the biennium leading to the historic victory of the Trinamool Congress over the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in the West Bengal assembly election of May 2011, Calcutta: Two Years in the City is a long, elliptical, meandering, and largely enjoyable departure from its alleged inspiration." - Graziano Krätli, North Haven, Connecticut

This book was reviewed in the November 2013 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website:
Present & Past: Some Reminiscences

In between his reminiscences of present and past, he makes us miss what we never knew, makes us want to know that whether the life is better now or was it in the past days through his anecdotes of bygone days of Calcutta. Only the last two chapters ('Study Leave' and 'A Visit') are less engaging and are more like ramblings of an old man. It feels like that they are there for just space occupation, a desperate try to fulfil some pre-set targets.
Dec 23, 2013 Beth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, india, 1970s-80s
this non-fiction book details the author's reactions to changes in the city of Calcutta (Kolkut)which he used to visit as a boy. He talks about neighborhoods, shops/markets, politics and city life in general. However, as a reader who has no familiarity with Calcutta, much of his material went right over my head. It was very hard to understand what he was trying to point out.
Mar 24, 2014 Leni rated it liked it
Why I liked it is because he uses lots of poetic references and at times I feel the hustle and bustle of most big cities, but I never smelt it. The reviews for this book are wonderful and quite lyrical but I felt as if I was plodding rather than sailing and perhaps that is what Calcutta is like. Unlike my father , I have never been there and I am not sure that I now have been in any sense.
May 19, 2016 Sneha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, feel closer to Kolkata than ever, although have been brought up by Bengalis and can kill or die for Rosogullas. This book and some of its sentences were not only an eye-opening revelations for the city, but to light itself.
Darcee Kraus
Sep 18, 2013 Darcee Kraus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
A charming tale that you are sure to get involved with, if you allow yourself to that is! Calcutta definitely seemed to have opened my mind to new ideas that surely do interest me.

Darcee Kraus
Mckinleyville, CA
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Amit Chaudhuri was born in Calcutta in 1962, and grew up in Bombay. He read English at University College, London, where he took his BA with First Class Honours, and completed his doctorate on critical theory and the poetry of D.H. Lawrence at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was a Dervorguilla Scholar. He was Creative Arts Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, from 1992-95, and Leverhulme Special R ...more
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