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Baumgartner's Bombay

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  612 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
A perceptive observation about the human race cleverly constructed and told with Desai's opulent vocabulary.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 2nd 2001 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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b00k r3vi3ws
In the last one month I have read three books by Anita Desai, but this is only my first review out of the three. The reason behind it is that Anita Desai’s writing always leaves me with a feeling of awe towards the author. Her language and her writing style is unparalleled in her genre and I feel extremely under qualified to review her works. So instead of making this a proper review, I am going to merely state my feelings from reading this book.

Baumgartner’s Bombay is the story of one Hugo Baum
Nov 18, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was very upsetting, but I am glad I read it anyway. Not sure why I should be glad I read it, given that it is pretty traumatic from beginning to end. I think part of what makes it interesting is the low-key way in which the horrible events unfold, with intervals of happier aspects of life bobbing about in the sea of woes. Lots of great characters, and the focus on the oddball title character allows us to see great world events unfold from a unique perspective. Highly recommended, as lo ...more
Jun 25, 2007 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was pretty keen on Anita Desai in years past, especially after reading "Clear Light of Day." (It's superb.) But there are several of her books I hadn't read, and she had dropped off my radar. Her daughter's recent success (Kiran won the 2006 Man Booker Prize for "The Inheritance of Loss") prompted me to revisit her writing.

"Baumgartner's Bombay" draws on Desai's unusual heritage: a German mother and an Indian father. It's the story of Hugo Baumgartner, a German Jew who flees the impending Holo
Riley Dawson
I found this book very interesting but I'm not sure I would have ever picked it up or finished it if not for reading it in a class. More like 3.5 stars for me. I really liked Hugo and found the juxtaposition of the distant Holocaust with the distant events of India (not physically, but on the periphery of Hugo's experience) super effective. I liked seeing a Holocaust story that wasn't just a Holocaust story, but the story of a jew (rather than a Jew) struggling through a similar yet different ki ...more
Lauren Stringer
Dec 02, 2012 Lauren Stringer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-books
The writing itself is what kept me reading this book. The main hero, Hugo Baumgartner is no hero, in fact he is crippled throughout his life by outside circumstances which he has no desire or inner power to overcome, content to remain in ignorance and dwell in whatever comfort he can find-- eventually living with stray cats- the only beings who accept and love him as long as he brings home scraps of food for them. But Desai's writing is so strong, descriptive and aggressive, it was a must read f ...more
Sep 03, 2016 NikolayM rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Alla var upptagna med sitt eget krig, och varje krig stod i konflikt med ett annat.'

'I den stunden insåg han att tystnad var hans naturliga tillstånd.'
Arundhati Khasnabis
A beautifully written book, in terms of quiet humour and rich descriptions, but so very disturbing. Throughout the book, the unsettling fact about Hugo's mother keeps me rattled. In the same way, Hugo's life continues, rattled and without direction, like waiting for a closure.
Suddenly the book comes to it's horrific end, and there is no closure at all. I am left with feeling "what a waste of a life !". The cats and Lotte are the only recipients of his wistful love.
But again, what is a fruitful
Mar 31, 2013 Arun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hugo Baumgartner, the son of a Jewish merchant, was born and raised in Berlin. They lived in affluence as his father's trade was booming. Then the unthinkable Holocaust happens forcing them to lose all their properties during which his father dies. The entire property of his father was slowly seized by his dad's business associate (they addressed him the 'Gentleman from Hamburg') who, posing as if helping the family in grief, somehow manages to beguile and gulp the whole fortune to himself. He t ...more
By Anita Desai. Grade: B+

Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s Bombay builds an old city, a city reverentially unknown to the 21st century. It’s a story of a German. It’s a story of an exile. It’s a story of a lone crunching man but not a story of retribution.

BAUMGARTNER'S BOMBAY is Anita Desai's classic novel of the Holocaust era, a story of profound emotional wounds of war and its exiles. The novel follows Hugo Baumgartner as he flees Nazi Germany?and his Jewish heritage?for India, only to be imprisone
Baumgartner is a German Jew growing up in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s. But wait: this is not – not exactly, not quite – a novel about the Holocaust. Instead Baumgartner leaves Germany before things get too bad, and takes a job in Calcutta. Eventually 1947 approaches, and in the riots and violence that led up to Partition, he leaves Calcutta too, ending up in Bombay.

This is not a novel about either of those tragedies. Instead it's a novel about a man who is forever isolated, forever an outsider,
Oct 01, 2014 Vaidya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I hate giving books 2 stars. I usually reserve them for the really bad ones. The really lazy ones.
But I couldn't help it. This is exquisitely written. Every word carefully chosen, polished, examined and then presented.
And like most such well-written books, it falls victim to its own sophistication.

With some 80 pages left I ran through the book and didn't feel like I missed anything. I realised that I didn't care much about the character anymore.
So much effort goes into describing the character'
A zeitgeist cause of the tragic events that occur in this book is suggested near the beginning:
Her teeth bit on the crystals and her nerves screamed at their sweetness. All the marzipan, all the barley sugar, the chocolates and toffees of childhood descended on her with their soft, sticking, suffocating sweetness. Enough to embrace her, enough to stifle her, enough to obliterate her. Sugary, treacly, warm, oozing love, childhood love, little mice and bunny rabbits of love--sweet, warm, choking
Sep 10, 2016 Priya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5-4ish. This one took me awhile to really get comfortable with the matter. Not until quite some several pages in did I really start enjoying what I read. But the prose is spotted throughout with truly heart-touching moments and you find yourself really having to slow down and process the ideas and feelings and context that is being presented.
Thing Two
The teen-aged Hugo Baumgartner is sent to Calcutta via Venice when his family's furniture business is destroyed by the Nazis, his father is sent to a concentration camp, and his mother has gone into hiding. His mother agrees to send her only son to India, but when he arrives he is imprisoned in an internment camp as a 'hostile alien'. After six years, he is released and ends up in Bombay where he befriends Lotte, the unhappy dancer, Farrokh, the owner of a cafe, and Kurt, the young Aryan druggie ...more
Joseph Sverker
What an odd idea and character this book is based upon. A young jewish boy, having to flee from Nazi Germany and that ends up in India, and Bombay after a while. Maybe it is based on some real story that Desai have picked up somewhere, but I simply loved it. Baumgartner just doesn't fit in, he is the outsider and the outcaste in the world and in India. Even so, he appears content with his life wherever he ends up. There is something mysterious with the character, yet also very life like and down ...more
Hugo Baumgartner flees Nazi Germany to escape Hitler's Holocaust and lands up in far away Calcutta where the British empire sees him as a mere German - making no distinction between a German Nazi and a German Jew in faraway India. With the Japs just 'round the corner, Baumgartner finds himself a PoW and ends up spending 6 years of the War in an Indian prison.
On his eventual release, he finds himself facing a new war in Calcutta - the war of religion. Being on the wrong side of history once agai
Sep 07, 2008 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: teresa-favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 28, 2009 Apoorva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
great book, and one I almost missed reading because it had been on my bookshelf a little too long. Anita Desai is a gifted writer, far, far better than her over-hyped daughter. Part of the book is set in Bombay and Calcutta, between WWII and the 1980s, and part of it in pre-war Germany. Apart from the constant German phrases, particularly early in the book, it was a pleasure to read. this is one random sentence I picked out just now, but there are many others:
"He had had trouble recognizing her
Maria Longley
Wonderfully written with great use of language. Bits of it held me enthralled, and then bits made me cringe with discomfort - but that was always the story which at moments I also felt a bit bored with. So an odd one to review or even gather my thoughts about. Anita Desai conjures up something really memorable, perhaps it's just because there is so much sadness in here too that I felt so uncomfortable? Bombay, Calcutta, Germany, Venice, internment camps, cafes, streets, race courses - all so wel ...more
Vinay Leo R.
The New York Times puts it simply as, “A daring colorful novel almost impossible to absorb in one reading.”

I agree with that. I haven’t yet had the time for a second read, but the first one urges me to read it again soon. There are characters I can immediately relate to, even put myself in their shoes in a different way and wonder if this is fiction. If it is so, why am I relating with it so much?

It’s a novel that one may feel as slow, but if willing to stick to it, can be very satisfying a rea
Had to read it for a class which connects the Holocaust to other atrocities (which is the case here with the turmoil around India's independence). I liked her style but thought the main character Hugo was kind of annoying, very passive, think he could have changed some things if he were just up for it. Still don't know if I would pick out any of her other books to give it a try, but it was nice enough.
Sundarraj Kaushik
Do not expect to find too much of Bombay in the book. It is more about Baumgartner than about Bombay. Bombay is incidental as Baumgartner is forced to settle down in this city.

The book covers the holocaust, the partition, and the poverty in India at a very high level through the eyes of an holocaust escapee Hugo Baumgartner.

Not a read for Indians who are grounded in reality of India. Not to say that the book does not portray realism, it does, but the depth is missing.
I just saw this title while looking up the author, and realized that I read this during college but remember almost nothing about it. I didn't enjoy most of the reading I did for that class, on colonialism in literature, but I don't know whether my reading of twelve years ago was to blame, or the book list really wasn't for me. I think I'd probably rather try something new from that area before specifically revisiting them. (Or maybe, today, I am cranky!)
Nov 28, 2013 Helmali rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-literature
Found the book to be boring, but nevertheless I wanted to finish it since I started reading it. The most exciting chapter was the last chapter where there was some action. Otherwise the whole book explains how Hugo see India. We get a very vivid picture of India from Hugo's eyes. Although Hugo is considered to be a silly and ignorant man, the attention he pays to details and his understanding of things around him surpasses his characteristics as explained in his book.
May 22, 2009 Eva rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Too slow-going. The author (a German-Indian non-Jew) did not do a good job at all of portraying the personal tragedy of the Holocaust. Also, I found myself not caring about any of the characters, since they all were sort of lifeless (although that was sort of the point, I guess). What I did like was the way the author started the book in a way that was confusing at the time, until you tied it all together at the end of the book. Still, I don't think I would recommend this to others.
Ellen Pierson
Jan 28, 2009 Ellen Pierson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this is a sad story of a hopelessly displaced person. hugo baumgartner flees nazi germany only to be imprisoned for being a german in still-colonial india. tragically ironic but beautifully written, desai tells a story of staggering loss and the perils of nationalism, but also one of friendship, and whatever kind of redemption can be found in small kindnesses.
Apr 01, 2015 Elissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elegant, beautiful and thoughtfully written. Although Hugo seemed to take life as a journey of what-comes, I felt emotionally attached to him. I found his character more than believable, especially considering his life circumstances. The ending was so harsh after a very dark story, I am not sure if I'm glad I read it or not.
Oct 25, 2011 Joanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been on an India kick since my trip, and this one came very close to accurately describing the level of poverty I saw. The main character was intrinsically interesting as a perpetual outside (not at home as a Jew in Germany nor as a foreigner in India) but I didn't care about him at all. Maybe that was the point, but it was kind of a heartless read for me.
Feb 19, 2012 Cheryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't really think I like it. It was...I don't like it. I probably won't read it again. I know I missed the deep meaning of this novel. I will find out what it is tomorrow. Sigh...I really want to like at least one of the novels in this class.
Well, being locked away in a camp in India for the duration of WWII is not actually the worst thing that happens to the main's not an uplifting book by any stretch of the imagination.
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Anita Desai was born in 1937. Her published works include adult novels, children's books and short stories. She is a member of the Advisory Board for English of the National Academy of Letters in Delhi and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London. Anita Mazumdar Desai is an Indian novelist and Emeritus John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technolo ...more
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“...People stop, stare. No one stop and stare if one of your own beggars drop dead in street. No just step over him like he is a stone, or a dog turd and go away quickly. But when they see a white man with golden hair lying on the street, everyone stop, everyone cry, "Hai - hai, - poor boy, call doctor, call ambulance. What has happen, Farrokh-bhai?"..."

- Farrokh said to Baumgartner when he wanted to get rid of the reluctant, overly drugged homeless foreigner out of his restaurant. (Page 167)”
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