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The Romantics

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,175 ratings  ·  122 reviews
Pankaj Mishra is one of the most promising talents of his generation, and this stunning, universally praised novel of self-discovery heralds a remarkable career.

The young Brahman Samar has come to the holy city of Benares to complete his education and take the civil service exam that will determine his future. But in this city redolent of timeworn customs, where pilgrims b
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 20th 2001 by Anchor (first published December 31st 1999)
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3.55  · 
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 ·  1,175 ratings  ·  122 reviews

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Apr 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
The novel is a coming-of-age tale that's practically Victorian. Our protagonist, but a mere spectator of a modern and exciting merger between East and West. Living in India, Samar is an intellectual who loves to read. He has this gift to take on Western classics like Flaubert's "Sentimental Education" & applies them to his daily life as a university student who, although wanting to experience his world as any youth could, is a teeny bit hesitant, i.e. hopelessly flawed. Miss West, his elder ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pankaj Mishra is another of those writers from Asia influenced by V.S. Naipaul and it shows here in his first novel. The succinct sentences and reflections on the small dramas of ordinary life are familiar. The book is made more pleasant than some of Naipaul's writing by the refreshing absence of misanthropy. This is a story about searching Westerners and drifting Indians whose lives intersect in Varanasi. I read it as being subtly autobiographical, though I do not know to what extent it reflect ...more
Inderjit Sanghera
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Romantics’ is, in many ways, about the unbridgeable gap between two disparate cultures; between the supercilious sense of superiority which the West holds over the East, a feeling which is perpetuated by those who claim to hold an affinity to the East, seeking to reduce it’s rich and diverse cultural heritage into an easy set of cliches and platitudes, fetishizing its beliefs, people and practices, cloaking the vapidity of their spiritual seances beneath a garbled set set of misconstructions ...more
The Romantics, Mishra’s only novel, is well-stated, with a lovely use of language and semantics. But if I, an unestablished not-yet-emerging author, had written this novel for a creative writing class, I’m sure it would have come back to me slashed and bleeding red ink all over the place. Mishra tells a first person narrative of Samar, a young academic living in Benares, and the various foreigners - presumably the titular romantics - he encounters, becomes acquainted with, and may or may not bef ...more
Thea Jessen
Mar 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Giving this three stars because of an amazing beginning. The 100 first pages were so good, I was definitely thinking this would be a 5 star rating. The culture clash between Europeans and Indians was so interesting to delve into, especially from an Indian point of view. However, after 100 pages the plot just kinda stopped. I mean...

Character development? Nah, not really. Besides, I didn`t feel like the protagonist was fleshed out enough to make me understand some of his actions.

Love interest? Lo
Vikas Singh
Oct 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is Pankaj Mishra's first book. Since the book is set in Varanasi, I had to read it. But frankly i was quite disappointed to read it. A depressing book, it follows the pseudo acceptance of the West's fascination and way of looking at Varanasi. There is no coherence of central plot or idea and when you finish the book, you think, why did I waste my time on it? Avoid.
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Well at least I finished it this time...
Boredom got to me last time I tried to read this book. The narrator is a dull, insecure observer who doesn't reveal enough of himself or others for this reader to be drawn into his world.
Samar reminisces about his time as a student in the holy city of Benares, where he hoped to lose himself in books. My response to this book is much like his response to his first reading of Flaubert's "Sentimental Education" which struck him as "flat and overly long. [He]
The Romantics, by contemporary Indian author Pankaj Mishra, seems to be his only novel. Which is a pity, because I really enjoyed it.

Last weekend I went to a Melbourne Writers' Festival session called Bookwallah, which I thought was going be a promotion of Indian writing, but instead the session turned out to be primarily journalistic commentary about the state of India today. The panel consisted of Annie Zaidi, Chandrahas Choudhury and moderator Nick Law. Although they didn't really talk much a
Kiehl Christie
Dec 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who travels / would like to travel

I felt like this book assaulted me when I was finished with it. Mishra ruthlessly handles young Western travelers who establish themselves for long periods of time in foreign countries, thoroughly questioning their motives.

It is not a book that eliminates a desire to travel, but instead invites us to question how we travel: from how we view traveling, what we hope to gain from traveling, and how we interact and perceive and relate to locals in the areas that we travel.

Wonderful, thoughtful, eff
Claire McAlpine
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reached for this off the bookshelf while suffering a fever and cold and was just what I needed, remembering those rooftop guest houses and the tangled kites, the ghats, the river boats, the pilgrims of Varanasi (Benares). A wonderful look across and within cultures from the perspective of a young Indian man.
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
The "romantics" referenced in this novel's title are the expatriate Europeans living in Benares, India, but also the young Indian men who have fallen in with this group.

Our narrator, Samar, is a Brahman (thanks to Google, I learned that this term refers to a member of the highest Hindu caste, that of the priesthood) student who has moved to the holy city of Benares to study for the Civil Service Exam. He spends his days reading nineteenth century European novels in the library (such as The Worl
Feb 04, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Pankajbhai disappoints. I abandoned this book half-way when I realized that all that I was doing was wasting my time and being rendered melancholic.

I expected the book to be a colorful account of Pankaj Mishra's days in Dehradun. It does not deliver. The characters, the "Romantics" are a bunch of shallow, pretentious individuals for whom abstraction is a convenient excuse to escape from the world; they are unable to reveal in its beauty. Pankaj Mishra is fascinated with Europeans in Benares; whi
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A strain of novels, end where they commenced.

It is a story of Samar, an aspirant of civil service exams. It is his journey of bewilderment (psychological) ,affinity, love, knowledge, adventure and being judgemental or in case making ideal by outward 'happiness ' to those who are much like 'The Fault in our stars.' (Miss West in the case). And why Civil Servant Exams are Integral for impoverished students and what occurs (for shadowy inkling) to them if they fail to pass the exams (Rajes's frien
Because I loved his vivid and personable history of the Buddha, I was keen to read this fictionalized account of the authors formative years. Maybe that was too much to impose on this rather aimless coming of age story that reveals PM in a less noble light.

The dated and mostly irrelevant knowledge I possessed only confused me further; it made me look for meaning and nuance where none existed. p86

The protagonist ...seemed to mirror my own self-image with his large, passionate, but impulsive longi
Sep 28, 2018 rated it liked it
I liked most it except the v last chapter, as I did not see the point He was trying to make about his trip to Benares.
Sairam Krishnan
Had been meaning to read Pankaj Mishra for some time, especially with all the raving reviews of 'From the Ruins of Empire' I came upon recently. Found this in hardback at Blossoms, Bangalore at a bargain price and pounced immediately.

I have been rewarded suitably, for this is a very very good book. Well written and poignant, the story weaves in and out of places etched on to India's layered past - Allahabad, Varanasi, Pondicherry, Dharamshala, Mussoorie and paints them in vivid, colorful portra
Sep 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. Pankaj Mishra is no great writer, his writing is sparse and ungainly and he keeps overelaborating. But I must admit The Romantics has a certain charm, an earnest bildungsroman that probably well suits the modest gifts of its writer. The protagonist, Samar, who stands in for Pankaj, is the person the reader is least likely to know about at the end of the book, probably because he knows so little of himself. He is a shallow, faux-intellectual who wants all t ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Although it does meander a bit (particularly in the second half, once the narrator leaves Benares), the novel creates an atmospheric, fin-de-siècle sort of mood – which is particularly interesting for its dislocation in contemporary (or nearly) India. The narrator, Samar, finds himself enduring a long (long) cross-roads kind of experience during the course of the novel, and his meetings with various other characters (both Indian and European or American) lead him mostly to confused, speculative ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
"Yeh meri duniya kahani hai. Main in logo ko janta hoon." My Hindi has progressed to the point that when I came to this quote in the book I did not need the translation. "It is the story of my world. I know these people well." And that's how I feel about this book. It is my story. I know these people.

Someone once said to me, treat everyone as if their heart were breaking because it probably is. This is a story of not only self discovery but the discovery that others suffer too. I identified with
Kevin Tole
I am more familiar with Pankaj Mishra’s non-fiction writing and reviewing ( so it was quite a surprise to see that he had ventured into fiction with this his first novel. Having finished it rather quickly I still cannot decide to put my thumb up or down on this one. Is it a good book written poorly, or a poor book written well? It’s a bit like the way his reviews always get to me, at some points raging against his right-on-ness and at others applauding so ...more
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
a superb 1st novel of the new india, rootless young people meet rootless westerners for a slap up of double melancholia. It illustrates one young man's search for meaning and love, only to find void and illusion, just like they said it would be. same as it ever was (TH's), but gains a small measure of accommodation at least, after years of work and isolation. I liked very much how the author would change his descriptive style of the world according to mood of the protagonist. That is, when he wa ...more
Fathima Cader
Oct 01, 2010 rated it liked it
The blurb for this book, as printed here on Goodreads, with its binarisation of East v West and its unabashed recycling of the stupidly tired cliches, is terrifically bad. I made the mistake of reading the blurb when I was about midway through the book, when the protagonist was at his most self-indulgent, which whininess lead to a certain reductivism around the politics of intercultural relations. This made me suddenly skeptical about the whole narrative, since it seemed there was no ironic dist ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-list-books
I'm not sure I gave The Romantics enough attention. I read the final 80 pages or so in one fell swoop, and they stuck with me much more than the snatched moments I had devoted to it before. Another coming of age tale, this one is set in modern day India. The central character has come to Benares to take his civil service exams, but his attentions are drawn elsewhere by the mishmash of people and cultures all looking to find themselves in a town historically known for its spirituality. In the end ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it liked it
"A Sentimental Education" transported to India. The naïf is Samar and Benares stands in for Paris (sort of). Samar is caught between two entirely different ways of being, and "The Romantics" is weakest in the way that it contrasts them. One is the circle of expatriates that form around his neighbor in the apartment building: educated, aesthetic, slumming. The other takes the form of Rajesh, murkily and probably violently involved in politics. India itself appears intermittently in the form of th ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Another one I tried because it was in "1001 Books." I wouldn't say it's a must read. Kind of interesting, but not great. This book would probably have more appeal for people who are from India (like the author) and can relate more to the places and customs. I will say I enjoyed the last part, Part III, much more than the first two parts.
The story is about an Indian Brahmin boy who goes to Benares to continue his college studies. He meets some expats (English and French) and is bewildered by man
Nov 16, 2015 rated it liked it
The story of an Indian young man (Samar) and his western acquaintances, all disillusioned with India, with the west and with life. The characterization is somehow poor, yet the story is captivating. My favorite part was Samar's living and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Tnahsin Garg
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I first got to know about Pankaj Mishra, as far as I can remember, was when I read his introductory note to E. M. Forster's "A Passage to India" (a very fine book in itself). Just by reading that small introduction I knew there was potential in this name. In the following years, I came across a couple of his articles and even though they seemed to be extremely leftist, the prose itself was very potent. So I decided, that this year, I would go ahead and give one of his books a shot.

I picked up "
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Samar, a quiet young man of nineteen, moves to Benares, an incredibly old and holy city, to study, read. Growing up alone, he struggles w/ human connections and escapes into books, into "the life of the mind" rather than focusing on family, friendship, romance, love. In his building also resides a British woman, Diana West, who welcomes Samar into her circle and becomes the conduit to his first interactions w/ Westerners.

I was struck by how well Mishra writes that awkward age when one moves from
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
On the risk of sounding romantic, i picked up this book in Benaras while i was falling for the romanticism for this absolutely soulful and stuck-in-time city. At least a 0.5 out of these 4 stars can be attributed for my romanticism towards the city and its very subtle surfacing throughout the novel.
Besides this, i found the writing to be very mature, though the plot is not very engaging. So if you are looking for an eventful read, this is not your pick. Just like the characters, their pace in l
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The seductive setting of Benaras, Mussoorie, Pondicherry and Dharamshala moulds the storytelling – each place enlivened by the rich details seen through the eyes of the introverted, conflicted, romantic twenty-something Samar. The prose is economic and poignant, ably founded upon a deep understanding of society and history, as Samar reconciles his academic education with religion, casteism, inequality and cosmopolitanism in India of the 1980s. But above all, The Romantics is a love story, an hon ...more
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Pankaj Mishra (पंकज मिशरा) is a noted Indian essayist and novelist.

In 1992, Mishra moved to Mashobra, a Himalayan village, where he began to contribute literary essays and reviews to The Indian Review of Books, The India Magazine, and the newspaper The Pioneer. His first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India (1995), was a travelogue that described the social and cultural ch
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