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The Elephanta Suite

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,277 Ratings  ·  197 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 September 26th 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
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
Rana
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Beth
Mar 15, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sharon
Sep 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Shamim E. Haque
Although Theroux paints a very negative picture of India, it is a very well written book and it kept me attentive all the way to the finish- 345 pages! I think that is why I gave it 5 stars. Paul Theroux, in dealing with his impressions of India, is also dealing with a very complex, troubled and elusive India: an India that cannot be summed up in a few lines or the scope of a novel, one that is beyond good and evil, but possibly negative and tragic. Its true nature always eluding the Westerner,e ...more
Katie
Jun 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mikey B.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Sharon
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
Fascinating read. Americans in India, overwhelmed. Maybe seeking something that they are not sure of. The common thread for these three stories is the Elephanta Suite.

One story is about the "vacationing" Americans and how they are protected from the poverty and living conditions the people who serve their tables experience. And how they both, in their own time, become debauched in their minds.

The second story is a high powered business man, in the business of outsourcing deals, spending his tim
...more
Dhali
Mar 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Maryan
Jan 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
These 3 novellas offered a view of India that is quite different from what I have read in the past. Theroux's characters' views of India and Indians swings from magical to diabolical depending on circumstance and personal expecations. American attitudes and actions are contrasted with Indian needs, beliefs and customs. The results of these interactions are sometimes tender but more often brutal. There are few winners in these tales and the reader senses that those who find contentment are someho ...more
Sanjay
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Patricia
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-books
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
Connie
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book enough to read it fairly eagerly, but I was annoyed. I have been a young foreign woman travelling in India with a back pack, and I have also been a wealthy middle aged American lady at the guarded resort. Haven't been the debauched foreign business man... Theroux gets a lot right about those experiences, and that isn't even the task of fiction. I guess the problem is that Mr. Theroux's narrative voice comes through really strongly, arrogant and conflicted. I can really relate t ...more
Troy Parfitt
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Elephanta Suite is a collection of three novellas set in India. There is a bit of thematic and symbolic overlap across the stories, yet they are quite distinct. The novellas are all good. Theroux is a steady and compelling writer, describing how his characters feel and the impulses and instincts that underlie their actions. Details make the backdrop authentic and immediate, and it’s clear the author has spent a considerable amount of time in the country.

Indeed, Theroux has an anthropologist
...more
Isabelle
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm surprised more people aren't raving about this book or rating it a full 5*s! Theroux has a gift - it is almost as though I can picture him in India, observing the people there so completely that they come to life on his page.

'Elephanta Suite' consists of 3 stories. The first seemed to come to an end all too soon - I wanted to see where this discontented English couple ended up. (Spoiler) Their death is assumed but this seems a cheap trick - let them live out the consequences of their actions
...more
Phoebe
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indien
All in all it was a rather dark and cynical picture Theroux portrayed in the novellas. However, he gave the country a mythical and positive feeling (with its religion and rich culture) while acknowledging its metropolitan spots and more negative sides (with its corruption and illegal/criminal activities). An alltogether realistic picture (as with almost every place in the world), but a still mostly dark and sinister one - a bit too dark and anti-india for my taste.
His writing is very fluent and
...more
Sara
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was fantastic. Theroux did a great job here of exploring different tropes of an "India Experience" you have the spiritual quest couple, the more money than morals single guy, and the on-my-own-for-the-first-time young girl all seeing the same, yet different sides of India. At times the stories were dark, but they were also real. I found myself absorbed in each story in a different way. I didn't actually like any of the main characters but I was deeply invested in what would h ...more
Pmcarver
Vivid descriptions of Indian life which is no surprise since Theroux is known as a travel writer. Three stories about Americans who traveled to India and were changed by the experience. Good sense of the sights, sounds and smells of India but I didn't like the American characters. They were believable but very me-first.

Recommend it if you're traveling there or like to learn about different places.
Benjamin
Jan 23, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tired re-hashing of stereotypes about India and the westerners who visit. Not worth reading.
Kristine Morris
Took me over all year to finish this book. Slightly upsetting and uncomfortable reading - not what I needed obviously, but I was determined to get through it.
Bernie Gourley
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Elephanta Suite is a collection of three novellas that feature Westerners out of their league in India. As an American living in India, I suspect anyone who’s had this experience will recognize instances in which—for good, bad, or a mix of each—one is swallowed whole by some feature of India that one couldn’t possibly have anticipated. The novellas aren’t interconnected, except by way of the themes that run through them and Theroux’s trademark use of what I’ll call—for lack of a better term— ...more
Robert
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sean
Jan 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"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
Negina
Mar 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Mo
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india
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
Chip
Jan 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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