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The Elephanta Suite

3.32  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,116 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
A master of the travel narrative gives us three intertwined novellas of Westerners transformed by their sojourns in India.

This startling and satisfying book captures the tumult, ambition, hardship, and serenity that mark today’s India. Paul Theroux’s characters risk venturing far beyond the subcontinent’s well-worn paths to discover woe or truth or peace. A middle-aged cou
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 24th 2008 by Emblem Editions (first published September 26th 2007)
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Oct 10, 2012 Rana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book a month back.
I have this curiosity to know what the white man thinks of Indians. Its like fishing for compliments.Whenever a white skin of minor importance, because the majorly important give this place a wide berth, visits Cal, the inevitable question asked is, "Do you think that Calcutta is India's cultural capital???" Whatever that means.The charitably affirmative reply is lapped up gleefully and even makes near-headlines in the Telegragh.
The same mentality made me read Paul
Mayank Chhaya
Dissecting India with discommoding success

Unqualified praise is but one response to any work by master stylist Paul Theroux for he is able to provoke, infuriate, annoy, anger, rile, stimulate and eventually persuade with equal facility.

His latest book, “The Elephanta Suite” sets out to slice through myriad and complex cultural layers that make up India. He does it with discommoding success. Mind you, a lot of what he says about India through his protagonists can be construed as an unabashed atte
Patrick McCoy
I have to say I really enjoyed the three novellas in The Elephant Suite set in India by Paul Theroux. And a part of the reason I enjoyed them so much was that I knew about the inspiration for them and some of the real life experiences that Theroux had while traveling in India for his book, Ghost Train To The Eastern Star. Theroux was disturbed by India and couldn't fully reconcile himself to those experiences he had and I think writing these novellas were a way to set down his feelings and exper ...more
Oct 07, 2013 Sharon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three varied stories where the suite features in each story and indeed some characters flow into the next story but other than foreigners exploring the rich differences of India compared to home and each main character attempting to find their own truth of themselves, the three tales are richly different and memorable. Good read. Good writer.
Mar 15, 2010 Beth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The only reason I managed to finish this book is because it was three short stories. I did not like the first two, Monkey Hill and The Gateway of India. The last one, The Elephant God, I enjoyed until the end. According to the front jacket "Theroux's portraits of people and places explode stereotypes to exhilarating effects." I did not find this to be the case at all. In fact, I found the stereotypes to be just that, stereotypes-both of the Indian and American characters.
The writing wasn't horr
Jan 06, 2015 Maryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
These 3 novellas offered a view of India that is quite different from what I have read in the past. Theroux's characters' views of India and Indians swings from magical to diabolical depending on circumstance and personal expecations. American attitudes and actions are contrasted with Indian needs, beliefs and customs. The results of these interactions are sometimes tender but more often brutal. There are few winners in these tales and the reader senses that those who find contentment are someho ...more
Jun 27, 2014 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three novellas by Paul Theroux about Western travelers in India.

The first is about a very privileged husband and wife, both of whom cheat on the other while in a fancy spa in the mountains. They end up overstepping their bounds by hooking up with the wrong people in India, and the staff at the spa rebel and ultimately reject them. The husband and wife get chewed up and spit out in a typical Paul Theroux violent, chaotic, lost-in-a-foreign-land way.

The second is about a Western businessman who, w
Alex V.
Like the grubby Americans whose adventures are documented in the three stories here, I was expecting a romantic experience with India in this book: the scents, the crushing poverty, moments of serene beauty and transformation.

What you get instead is a grim two-sided world. The pampered pale foreigners on one side, and the intricate mass of india on the other, both relying on dehumanizing usage patterns to survive. The Americans are clearly, brazenly using the Indians, and the Indians play on the
Mar 31, 2011 Phredric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
All three stories are a bit disturbing, the first two left me feeling a bit "what was that about?" The people in them weren't very interesting or likable, and I found the ending unsatisfying . I liked the third story best, Alice's experiences with her travel-mate, at the ashram and her relationship with the elephant who avenges her made for interesting reading, even if they ending was as dark as the others.

Some of his descriptions are very good, but with few exceptions (the Jain, the mahout and
Jun 24, 2014 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-books
Read this somewhat disturbing book in a weekend. It essentially consists of three short stories with just a bit of a connection between them. The author looks at modern life in India through the lense of three different sets of American eyes. Slightly troubling but did a wonderful job capturing the sights and smells that I experienced on my short visit there a few years ago. He uncovers the skepticism and narrow-mindedness of Americans while also acknowledging some of the darker sides and comple ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Connie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book enough to read it fairly eagerly, but I was annoyed. I have been a young foreign woman travelling in India with a back pack, and I have also been a wealthy middle aged American lady at the guarded resort. Haven't been the debauched foreign business man... Theroux gets a lot right about those experiences, and that isn't even the task of fiction. I guess the problem is that Mr. Theroux's narrative voice comes through really strongly, arrogant and conflicted. I can really relate t ...more
Aug 27, 2007 Sanjay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Should be two-and-a-half stars, actually. Well-written, with an eye for the telling detail, but containing too many generalisations about India -- at times, one wasn't sure whether these were the characters' thoughts or the author's. These three interlinked novellas chart the consequences of interactions between visiting Americans and India, telling of what happens when they leave the safety of their hotel room, spa and ashram. Somewhat stereotypically, sex and spirituality play large roles. Som ...more
May 06, 2015 Sharon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
Fascinating read. Americans in India, overwhelmed. Maybe seeking something that they are not sure of. The common thread for these three stories is the Elephanta Suite.

One story is about the "vacationing" Americans and how they are protected from the poverty and living conditions the people who serve their tables experience. And how they both, in their own time, become debauched in their minds.

The second story is a high powered business man, in the business of outsourcing deals, spending his tim
Theroux is either 'hit or miss'. Some of his writings have been really good while some (ie Kowloon Tong) were real bad.

This one is an interesting read.......good enough to read the whole way through but not one of his better books.

There are three stories, novellas, I suppose. I did not care for the first one. I liked the second even though I felt it was contrived. And as for the third, to hell with 'eastern thoughts or religion' - this was 'western revenge' andI like it!

I also like the maturity
Silvia Pastorelli
First of all, I'll start saying that I love Theroux's writing: I love his prose, his style and his descriptions are always so vivid.
"The Elephanta Suite" is composed of three novellas, all set in India, whose protagonists are Western people, visiting the country for the first time (a couple in the first story, a divorced business man in the second and a young backpacker in the last). The characters, who also make short cameos from one story to the other, are in India for different reasons. What
Shamim E. Haque
Although Theroux paints a very negative picture of India, it is a very well written book and it kept me attentive all the way to the finish- 345 pages! I think that is why I gave it 5 stars. Paul Theroux, in dealing with his impressions of India, is also dealing with a very complex, troubled and elusive India: an India that cannot be summed up in a few lines or the scope of a novel, one that is beyond good and evil, but possibly negative and tragic. Its true nature always eluding the Westerner,e ...more
Ranjan Atreya
I am left a little confused after finishing this book because it does different things to me. The portrayal of the characters is cliched yet it is reveals a lot about us as people. The people seem real yet seem very distant and unbelievable. Each story made me feel sad, made me feel the exaggeration that the West typically portrays in Indians, of India as a whole. Yet, the things said are all true. We lie and deceive but we also treat people as they should be treated and that is not always neces ...more
Diane Campbell

This book was given to me by a friend who - as it happened - was leaving to travel (not to India, though).

I really wanted to like this book. I truly did. Perhaps it's because I've never been to India. Maybe it was the characters. But I didn't feel as if I connected with any of the characters in these stories. I tried to imagine, to somehow empathize. But -- for some reason -- I just couldn't.

Roughly a week and a half ago on the subway, a fellow passenger got my attention because she noticed I
Susan Emmet
Intriguing and disturbing combination of three novellas - one of a couple who are close but far, one of an American businessman who tries to find himself in Mumbai, and one of a young woman who is liberated and then enslaved by a journey to independence.
Just found myself again wondering about the lure of travel away from home - the revelations, the wonder, the lack of understanding of other cultures, the journey that many take to find themselves, to stretch and grow and perhaps discover that th
Bernie Gourley
Aug 25, 2015 Bernie Gourley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Elephanta Suite is a collection of three novellas that feature Westerners out of their league in India. As an American living in India, I suspect anyone who’s had this experience will recognize instances in which—for good, bad, or a mix of each—one is swallowed whole by some feature of India that one couldn’t possibly have anticipated. The novellas aren’t interconnected, except by way of the themes that run through them and Theroux’s trademark use of what I’ll call—for lack of a better term— ...more
missy jean
Jul 20, 2015 missy jean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Three novellas, with evocative descriptive language, but throughout which all my previously-expressed concerns about Thoreaux's close-third-person ethnocentric misogynist narrators went mostly unallayed (

The ending of the third novella, though, might have changed everything for me... It caught me totally off-guard and made me think that okay, maybe Thoreaux is just off-the-charts cynical, and you know me, I like that in a writer.
Jun 13, 2015 Eddie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
India is vast continent with over 1.2 billion people, a multitude of languages and four major religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism) so it is a difficult place to explain. In these three novellas we see India through the eyes of several westerners who are in India to relax at a yoga retreat, make money through outsourcing deals or to travel. Through these three different ways of looking at India we are able to build a picture of the place through the eyes of a westerner.

Commerce li
Jan 25, 2011 Sean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"The Elephanta Suite" by Paul Theroux is a collection of novellas that the explores complex emotions and experiences of Westerner travelers in India. Theroux brings to these his typical acerbic observations and tight, interesting storytelling in three intertwined if uneven stories of desire and illusions in India. "Monkey Hill" follows a rich middle aged couple indulging in the rhythm of an idyllic India confined within the walls of a luxury resort. Each experience India differently, one as a lo ...more
Nov 01, 2008 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
The Elephanta Suite is a triptych of three lightly interrelated novellas that riff on the theme of the foreign visitor--in this case American--overwhelmed and transformed (not always for the better) by the experience of visiting, living in, and traveling in India. It's a very fine collection, written with strength, insight,and humor..

Thematically, of course, this is a very old trope: it's culture shock, it's 'India is older and wiser than we are,' it's the freedom to descend into one's one primi
Andrew Rosner
Modern India is a fascinating study in contradictions. On the one hand, it's the world's largest democracy, a burgeoning world economic power with an ever expanding middle class (and a far better long term bet than China, in my opinion). On the other hand, it's still a country where millions of people live a life of superstition and grinding poverty. For anyone seeking an understanding to this dichotomy, my first recommendation is V.S. Naipaul's books, particularly the wonderful "A Million Mutin ...more
Jan 15, 2010 Chip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its hard to say what I think about this book. Competently well written. Interesting insight into a culture different from mine. I couldn't get an accurate feel for whether the author has actually been to India or not - most of the specific details are things one could see on the National Geographic channel. There's a "glossing over" of details related to India that leaves the door open to my curiosity about the author's experience and the book wavering on credibility. At face value the three nov ...more
Apr 10, 2009 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Theroux’s non-fiction books he skims over the personalities that he meets, particularly Americans that he encounters en-route. In this book he uses the three stories to develop characters and show how they interact with a culture, this time in India. They aren’t short stories: the shortest is 80 pages and the longest 106 pages but all tell the tale of Americans who spend an extended period in India.

The first two stories are of Americans who happen to reside in the Elephanta Suite, one in a Mu
Mikey B.
Feb 23, 2013 Mikey B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
3 Novellas Set in India

These are three novellas set in India. They revolve around three sets or types of Americans in India. The most convincing is that of the young American female tourist. The other two are about an American businessman (in his forties) in Mumbai, and a middle-aged couple in a yoga camp or ashram.

The stories are all entertaining and very readable and the Indian settings conveyed by Paul Theroux are indeed vivid.

I do have a problem with why these people are in India - partic
Apr 10, 2009 Negina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 13, 2010 jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure
Typical Paul Theroux-an extremely descriptive story about India. "For everyone with an urge to pack a bag and head for the unknown, even while sitting in place."

"With the whole day ahead of her, she sat by the window and watched India slip by in a stream of simple images-women threshing grain on mats, men plowing with placid oxen, children jumping into muddy streams, clusters of houses baking in the sun..."

After adjusting to India--the days that followed were dream like and wonderful. She spent
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
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