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A River Sutra

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,936 Ratings  ·  154 Reviews
With imaginative lushness and narrative elan, Mehta provides a novel that combines Indian storytelling with thoroughly modern perceptions into the nature of love--love both carnal and sublime, treacherous and redeeming. "Conveys a world that is spiritual, foreign, and entirely accessible."--Vanity Fair. Reading tour.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 28th 1994 by Vintage (first published 1993)
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Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014-challenge
I hate reading Hindi/Sanskrit poetry in translation!

Now that it is out of my system, I have mixed feelings about this one. Stories are interesting, some more than others but there is no novel here. There is the common theme of Narmada and love but no central narrative to bind all the stories.

Also, the book is targeted at the western audience which becomes painfully clear when 2 Indian talking to each other about Indian music, feel the need to say that, "I was not even permitted to sing the seven
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india, library, reviewed
A Government official in India is in charge of a Government Rest House--a sort of inn. He is told stories about various individuals: a Jain monk previously from a wealthy family; a music teacher; a courtesan searching for her lost daughter; an insane playboy; a River Minstrel and an anchorite who worships Shiva. All this takes place near the river Narmada, a place of spiritual pilgrimage to Hindus. Gorgeous, lush writing that taught me something of Indian culture.
Jess ❈Harbinger of Blood-Soaked Rainbows❈
I simply adore this book. It was required reading for my freshman core class and so I first read it the summer before college, then again twice in college, and once after. And I will probably go on reading it forever. My copy is all battered and torn up and highlighted and that is exactly the way I enjoy it. I still am not sure what it is about this book that touches me so, and I end up in tears for no reason every time I finish. This is a novel about India and the sacred Narmada River which flo ...more
Yigal Zur
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
loved it
Oct 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mythology
Of the many stories and themes that flow through A River Sutra, one stands out above all: passion. The individual stories that are told alongside this river are both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. Altogether, these stories of passion, the story of A River Sutra, function to demonstrate the functions of mythology as set by Joseph Campbell. Here, I will focus on the first and fourth function of mythology.
The pain that is seen throughout A River Sutra points to the metaphysical function of mytho
Lit Bug
Mar 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Indian stories, woven together, but not fantastic. Only one story stood out, that of an old music teacher taking a young, blind exceptional singer under his wing. Absolutely moving, very sad story. Love reading it again and again.
Kathy Davie
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: homey, history
A lovely setting for some peaceful spiritual tales.

My Take
This was absolutely lovely to read. A very peaceful and calming flow of words, descriptions, life that allows the reader to sink into Indian culture. It is so very different from the type of novels I usually read---big surprise---and it sank into me that what many Americans generally read is quite possibly how A River Sutra is viewed by an Indian reader. And I could very well be wrong in that!

There is an insight into life related by the
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loved the “old” Indian narrative voice, like a song in the background, that carries the main stories of the many people encountered near the Narmada river. Despite the editing typos which are the publisher’s issue, Mehta’s prose is near prose poetry and easily apprehensible and subtley deeper than consciously acceptable.

I am surprised at the beauty of this book which I’m not sure if Mehta knows gives the reader a certain peacefulness that being with or at the Narmada river is supposed to give!

Jennifer Cooper
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is nominally about an Indian clerk who has retired to the Narmada River, but it reads as a collection of stories more than a single cohesive book. This isn't too much of a flaw, though, since each of the stories is lovely and could stand up on its own. Each story is about someone the clerk meets or is told about, and each of these people has some connection to the holy river. A few of the tales are happy, and several of them end in tragedy, but they all have some sort of moral (without ...more
Jun 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
A nicely written, peek into a somewhat different world. Smooth and easy to digest. I found myself trying to actually see the bungalow, the jungle and more importantly the river, in my mind. The chapter about the poor, little singing child really threw me at the end.

All in all, makes me want to read more Indian literature.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
Lush descriptions, dreamy stories.
Feb 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
You might find it strange if you're not Indian, but nevertheless it's an amazing look at the myriad cultures and customs that are found there.
I registered a book at!
Cosetta Procino
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm a lover of India, of walks, of spiritual paths and soulful adventures. this book is absolutely incredibly beautiful to me.
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I freely admit that I more or less bought "A River Sutra" because it was the recommended book with the prettiest cover (Note: The Vintage paperback, not the other editions!).

The back blurb tells us that this book "tells the story of a retired bureaucrat who has escaped the world to spend his twilight years running a guest-house on the banks of the country's holiest river, the Narmada".

To be honest, there is not much guest-house running involved. There are people arriving and leaving
Dana Clinton
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Take me away to India for a few days.... with Gita Mehta's novel A River Sutra, recommended to me some years ago by dear friend David... "sutra", according to the glossary, is literally a tread or string, but also a term for literary forms. My favorite waiter Ishwouri told me it meant "form or pattern"... anyway, the river of the title is the Narmada, a very powerful river in India which indeed forms the backbone of the entire book. The narrator (who is never named) "retired from the world" afte ...more
Dec 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Gita Mehta has proven with this piece that being the wife of the publishing house is not the reason why she deserves respect. Mehta's writing is fantastic and should be read by anyone who would like to explore South Asian literature. I feel that this is another top-shelf book foreigners outside of India can use to peer into that land and experience a taste of their rich culture. A River Sutra, especially, is an accessible read for those interested learning about Indian society as it has been rev ...more
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very clever, fascinating book which uses the device of a frame story, allowing the author to relate several different short tales through the expedient of their discovery by the protagonist. In this case, a government bureaucrat takes a position as manager of a vacation bungalow nestled on the banks of the river Narmada in rural India. He has been many years in the big city, is childless and a widower; he thinks it high time he went into semi-retirement to contemplate the world.

As part
John Sheahan
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
The blurb: ‘Written with hypnotic lyricism, this is seductive prose of a high order.’
After the first couple of chapters, I thought not. Then I noticed a different rhythm in my writing. Mehta’s style seemed to seep in beneath my consciousness and it was delightful to find it there on the page in front of me. (Don’t look for it here – it has been some weeks since I finished the book!)
It is a book you could say is simply written. The vocabulary does not soar into polysyllabic confusion; the overar
Sep 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book if only for the fact that I am always curious about other cultures. This book is set on the Narmada river in India and is told by a man who is trying to pull himself away from the world. He is met by some very interesting people with even more interesting stories that help explain religions, culture and mythology that I was previously unfamiliar with. A lot of it was entertaining and some of it fascinating in the fact that some of the stories represented such a forei ...more
Elena Sala
The Narmada river, apparently the holiest in India, is the setting for this novel. The narrator is a civil servant who has renounced the world in order to meditate beside this river. The novel consists of a series of linked moral tales heard by the narrator from pilgrims who come to the river in search of enlightenment or forgiveness. "Sutra" means a collection of wise sayings, so these moral tales would be part of the Narmada sutra.

Themes from India's religions - Hinduism, Islam, Jainism - blen
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I loved this story of a civil servant, a widower, who has come to manage the government owned guest house on the banks of the Narmada river. He has entered the vanaprashti phase of his life, a concept I am particularly taken with. In the Hindu tradition we all go through phases in our lives-infancy, student, householder, and finally vanaprashti where we turn our energies and thoughts to Enlightenment.
As a vanaprashti this manager has decided that a guest house near the sacred river is the perfe
Salla Erho
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
33: Kirja kertoo Intiasta
Pyhä Narmada-joki, joen sutrat – tarinat, jotka kietoutuvat joen ympärille. Nämä tarinat saa kuullakseen romaanin päähenkilö, virkamies, joka on päättänyt jättää taakseen elämän hektisyyden ja vetäytyä syrjäseudulle. Hän pitää matkakotia Narmada-joen varrella seuranaan palvelijansa ja vartijansa. Joki kuljettaa hänen luokseen pyhiinvaeltajia ja matkalaisia, joilla jokaisella on tarina kerrottavanaan.

Gita Mehtan romaani on erittäin intialainen. Se vaikut
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book tries too hard. On the face of it, it is a collection of stories that an Indian bureaucrat comes across during his self-imposed exile on the banks of the River Narmada. However, none of the accounts really add to the plot and in the end I was left wondering why they were included.

The imagery was very trite for instance this sentence was just too convoluted: "Overhead the small clouds rose like foam above the distant Himalayas before breaking in a white wave as the wind swept them towa
Sangavi Deepthi
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The author is surely a genius to have beautifully interwoven the tales of passion, despair, forgoing, struggle and of course love, every tale veraciously linked with the sacred river narmada. there is something very touching about this novel, that I'm unable to put my finger on. The lilting harmony the narration brings at the end of each episode, will leave you pondering for long, the dubious courses of the river (life)
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I picked this up to try and get a better feel for India before our trip - the culture, mythology, land, people, etc. I think it did that, and it was certainly interesting. The stories don't necessarily seem to relate to each other except through the narrator's experience of having heard them, which was ok I guess, but could have been smoother. The "moral" of some of the stories was sometimes confusing, but I guess that's the point - I was trying to get into the frame of mind of another culture.
Jenny Yates
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
A beautiful set of interlocking stories about the Narmada, India’s holiest river. The main character is a bureaucrat who has retired to run a guesthouse on the banks of the Narmada, and the stories are told by those who cross his path.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Set in India. An aging bureaucrat decides to semi-retire by running a government guest house on the banks of the Narmada River. Life is quiet there, and the narrator listens to the stories of people who have come to the sacred river.
Nov 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for a class in undergrad and I wound up really loving it. It's full of several little stories that center around a sacred river. All of the stories seem so different at first, but they actually all come back to the same basic idea. Such a good book.
Benjamin Buchholz
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the books most heavily ear-marked in my private library. So many passages of simple but startling clarity.

The book is built from four seemingly disparate narratives. Take it like a collection of short fiction and then brace yourself for the ending! Oh, India!
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500 Great Books B...: A River Sutra - Gita Mehta 1 10 Jul 15, 2014 09:44PM  
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Gita Mehta (born in 1943) is an Indian writer and was born in Delhi in a well-known Odia family. She is the daughter of Biju Patnaik, an Indian independence activist and a Chief Minister in post-independence Odisha, then known as Orissa. Her younger brother Naveen Patnaik has been the Chief Minister of Odisha since 2000. She completed her education in India and at the University of Cambridge, Unit ...more
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“The extraordinary thing about inventing a persona is that one is loathe to give it up, especially if the fiction sits comfortably.” 4 likes
“In his attempt to frighten me, my father had made me realize that to prevent suffering a man must be capable of suffering, that a man who cannot suffer is not alive.” 0 likes
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