Tina's Reviews > Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta
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's review
Feb 04, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in February, 2010

Mehta wrote a book in which he is not entirely honest with himself or his readers. This is not to say that he has grossly misrepresented the "characters" within the world of his non-fiction book (rather, it is apparent that they are perhaps the only "truth" within this book); rather, he is un-truthful with and about himself. This book, as Mehta frames it, is the author's journey back to the mythic land of his youth: Mumbai. Along (perhaps dragged) on this journey are his wife and two sons, the later of whom's "cultural education" appears to be the impetus of this return to the mother land. However, Mehta rarely mentions his wife or his children within the pages of his book. Rather, what he focuses on are the gangsters, bar dancers, directors/Bollywood types, and other "riff-raff" that populate Mumbai. Later, much later, in the book he shifts the focus (albeit briefly) to a street urchin-cum-poet and a Jain family (two separate vignettes) in an attempt to emphasis that Mumbai is home to aspiration and broken dreams. However, not only does this shift come too late, but the connection to Mehta's own aspirations and broken dreams reads as forced and false. In a book that is heralded as a journey of self-discovery (at the very least so, by the title alone) Mehta fails to make himself the center of the story and thus, fails to truly and truthfully examine what it means to return home and/or rediscover/discover for the first time one's heritage.

Despite the feeling of a contrived story (many parts of this book read as though Mehta compiled files upone files of research, looked over that research, and then cobbled together a story that he thought his western (read: New Yorker audience) might enjoy, there are moments of light and levity. His descriptions and portrayal of the characters that populate his book--the gangster hit-men, the dancing girls, the gender-confused Honey, etc--are all heartbreakingly beautiful and breathtakingly astute. As a cultural "insider", Mehta accurately walks the thin line between gratuitously aggrandizing his own culture in an attempt to defend it and/or excusing the sometimes seemingly "backwards" actions of a third-world populous. The desperation to escape as well as the love its inhabitants have for Mumbai is perfectly and tenderly expressed. In that, at least, Mehta was truthful.
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