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The Romantics

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,014 Ratings  ·  100 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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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 would, is a teeny bit hesitant, i.e. hopelessly flawed. Miss West, his elder ...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
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
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]
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Pranjal Dhaka
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
I picked up The Romantics expecting exactly what it turned out to be: a novel, which falls short of a cohesive honesty due to an unfamiliarity with the surroundings of where the plot of the novel is based in. But maybe this deduction sounds a little too harsh, especially when one is to consider it was the first novel that Mr Mishra wrote and that he was just 25 years of age when it was published. The literary quality of the narration gleams of practised talent and sincere diligence, as powerful ...more
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Emery Allen had said what I wanted to say - "Some things are too strange and strong to be coincidences."
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
his first novel, but creates a mesmerising impression of what he is capable of.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
just perfect.
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Those were the times when PM lived in India and was a romantic...! wish he writes one such novel, once again.. there is no religion love, no panacea like love and no search as the search for love..!
Ankayarkanni Prasad
Mar 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Large printed and thin, The Romantics looked like a perfect choice for some light reading. Set in Benares, it looked like yet another , one of those tales from India, that rolls around poverty, politics, corruption, castes, spirituality and so on..It directly plunged me into a simple, straightforward, first-person narrative. But I was sweetly surprised by the rich images it evoked. I was transported to the chaotic and dirty as well as pristine and pure worlds of Benares, Pondicherry, Kalpi and D ...more
Camille McCarthy
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I liked this book because I felt it was written very honestly. Pankaj Mishra writes beautifully and is the best Indian author I've read so far. I liked that he was not trying to sound British or American but he also didn't add in a lot of Hinglish slang like some modern authors which can make writing sound very tacky. The book was full of melancholy but wasn't downright depressing like Jhumpa Lahiri's stories. It was also a lot more open and accessible than Amitav Ghosh's writing.
The story ba
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Who are the “Romantics?” They are all of the characters in the book who have “memories, wounds, ambitions, and regrets,” no matter where in the world they come from. The Romantics takes place in India, where the main character in the book, Samar, attended school in one part of India, only to continue his studies for the Civil Exams in Benares. Samar was accustomed to his daily routines each day, eating breakfast each morning with the owners of the boarding house, studying at the library, and com ...more
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
Noah Enelow
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of the reviews at the front of my edition says, "Samar's story is the story of innumerable young, small-town men who, hungry for significance, and at odds with their new destiny, struggle to make sense of an alien comsmopolitan through borrowed intellectual tools (Outlook)." I would say this sums up this slight novel perfectly: a story of missed opportunities, betrayals, sell-outs, settling for second best--yet finding, at last, an inner peace and acceptance.

The constant references to "The
May 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
I believe this is Pankaj Mishra's first novel. In some ways, it is the stereotypical story of 'east meeting west' and most of the characters seem to have been created to fit a certain mould. It is the story of Samar, a young Indian who comes to the holy city of Benares and has hopes of making it to the elite Indian Civil service. He meets a bunch of westerners in the holy city and the rest follows. There is the beautiful French woman, Catherine, who is in love with Anand, an aspiring sitar playe ...more
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
The holiest place in all of Hinduism, Benares is to Hindus what Jerusalem is to Christians and Mecca is to Muslims. A recorded history spanning thousands of years instills within the denizens of this once great city a sense of historical pride. This sense of historical grandeur is continually challenged by the harsh realities of urban decay, religious strife and doddering pace of progress. This decrepitude is mirrored in the spiritually inclined western travellers who throng the many ghats and b ...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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