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The Elephanta Suite

3.29 of 5 stars 3.29  ·  rating details  ·  954 ratings  ·  158 reviews
This startling, far-reaching book captures the tumult, ambition, hardship, and serenity that mark today’s India. Theroux’s Westerners risk venturing far beyond the subcontinent’s well-worn paths to discover woe or truth or peace. A middle-aged couple on vacation veers heedlessly from idyll to chaos. A buttoned-up Boston lawyer finds succor in Mumbai’s reeking slums. And a...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 18th 2008 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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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...more
Rana
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...more
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
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...more
Phredric
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...more
Sanjay
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
Beth
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...more
Katie
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...more
Sharon
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.
Chuck
One of my fascinations has always been the culture, history and geography of India. Ever since my travels to this mystic land I have taken every opportunity to learn more, This reason combined with my passion for Paul Theroux books led me to this book. Pauk Theroux has a gift with words, a passion of opinion and was able with his wonderful vocabulary to bring the sights, sounds, smells, of India to life. I felt like I was in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Mumbai and in the slums while I read...more
Patricia
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
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
Sean
"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
Robert
Nov 01, 2008 Robert rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
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
Chip
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
Andrew
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...more
Mikey B.
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...more
Negina
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
jane
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...more
Elise Hamilton
I love Theroux’s writing and thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's three loosely connected stories. More accurately, it's three stories in which a character from one shows up very tangentially in the next. But each paints a picture of an stranger in a strange land---an American in India, who believes he or she has found something special there…has gained some deep understanding or has had a life-transforming experience. If I say more, I'll give too much away. I hope I'm not being too revealing when...more
Mo
Notable passages:

"The sense that she was leaving one word for another was palpable: in the rising dust and the sound of impatient voices, the men shouting at the monkey temple, the smell of smoke, and other voices, the sharp Indian yell, meant to be heard at a distance and to make the hearer submit to it. The grating of traffic, too - heavy trucks, the laboring bus, all shuddering metal and hisses. And, farther from the clear air and the tidy gardens of Agni, the stink of the town - dirt, dung,...more
Scott Stirling
I loved these stories. They come back to the mind over time. I spent three months in India myself in 2007. Theroux knows his way around Mumbai and some other places. The first story is about a rich western couple on spiritual retreat, which ends horrifically. The second is about a western business man's debauchery with underage sex workers in Mumbai, ending in renunciation and redemption at a Hindu ashram. The last was about a young Indian woman and an elephant she admired, which she visited whe...more
Sarah
Theroux uses India as a backdrop for three novellas in this brilliant collection, The Elephanta Suite. In Monkey Hill, an American couple, Audie and Beth Bluden, have traveled to a holistic spa for relaxation, mediation and renewal. They expect luxury and adornment, but soon venture into exploitation of their Indian staff to meet their needs.

Dwight Huntsinger, lawyer and businessman, is traveling through India in The Gateway to India. His local colleagues instruct him on customs. He is a cautio...more
Sunil
In two words, Not bad.
Paul Theroux’s latest novel, is actually a compilation of three novellas- each, a story at the Indo-american interface set in contemporary times. The first is rather a weak story of an American couple holidaying in an Indian spa; the second , perhaps the most intense of the three is a story of an American businessman forced to visit India because of his work and the last is about a young American backpacker. Interestingly, all the characters come to India with their own ide...more
Jeanne
In a trio of novellas, Theroux takes us to India. Through the eyes of Americans, the reader discovers the beauty and the horror of the country.

Monkey Hill tells the tale of a wealthy couple visiting an exclusive spa in India. Both husband and wife encounter sexual temptation and its frightening aftermath.

The Gateway of India focuses on a lawyer and business man, Dwight Huntsinger. When the story begins, he is terrified of everything outside of his luxurious hotel room and the boardroom. By the t...more
Stefani
I liked this book because, like other books about foreign places I have read, it transported me to an exotic locale that I am unlikely to visit anytime in the near future. I'm not sure if all the insights about Indian people/culture were entirely true or representative of the culture as a whole, nor where the characterizations of Americans as predatory, sexually repressed, or morally reprehensible really valid either. Theroux ties all three novellas together by uniting the characters with a shar...more
Becky
This book was compelling. I'm not sure I liked it,however, even though it kept me up late reading. I definitely couldn't put it down, but would I recommend it... I don't know? I plan on trying another from this author. He paints a very bleak, horrific, violent picture of India. Both the tourists and Indians are parasitic, opportunistic, sexually aggressive and fearful. Theroux breathes life into his characters only to punish them for their character flaws. The three nouvellas are all punitive an...more
Loyola University Chicago Libraries
The Elephant Suite compiles three fascinating, morally complicated novellas about Americans, primarily tourists, in India. Typically, the stories find the Americans wholly out of their element, devastated or seemingly destroyed by what they find. But for some there is redemption, and for fewer still a form of salvation. What makes Elephanta Suite an uncomfortable but revealing book are the strongly implied (ultimately ambiguous) parallels drawn, or suggested by appearance, between animal and hum...more
William
The Elephant Suite compiles three fascinating, morally complicated novellas about Americans, primarily tourists, in India. Typically, the stories find the Americans wholly out of their element, devastated or seemingly destroyed by what they find. But for some there is redemption, and for fewer still a form of salvation. What makes Elephanta Suite an uncomfortable but revealing book are the strongly implied (ultimately ambiguous) parallels drawn, or suggested by appearance, between animal and hum...more
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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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The Great Railway Bazaar Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town The Mosquito Coast Riding the Iron Rooster The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

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