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The Elephanta Suite

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,250 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
A master of the travel narrative gives us three intertwined novellas of Westerners transformed by their sojourns in India.

This startling and satisfying book captures the tumult, ambition, hardship, and serenity that mark today’s India. Paul Theroux’s characters risk venturing far beyond the subcontinent’s well-worn paths to discover woe or truth or peace. A middle-aged cou
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by McClelland & Stewart (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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
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
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
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, novel, 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
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.
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
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
Andrew Rosner
Modern India is a fascinating study in contradictions. On the one hand, it's the world's largest democracy, a burgeoning world economic power with an ever expanding middle class (and a far better long term bet than China, in my opinion). On the other hand, it's still a country where millions of people live a life of superstition and grinding poverty. For anyone seeking an understanding to this dichotomy, my first recommendation is V.S. Naipaul's books, particularly the wonderful "A Million Mutin ...more
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
India is vast continent with over 1.2 billion people, a multitude of languages and four major religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism) so it is a difficult place to explain. In these three novellas we see India through the eyes of several westerners who are in India to relax at a yoga retreat, make money through outsourcing deals or to travel. Through these three different ways of looking at India we are able to build a picture of the place through the eyes of a westerner.

Commerce li
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
Dec 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In two words, Not bad.
Paul Theroux’s latest novel, is actually a compilation of three novellas- each, a story at the Indo-american interface set in contemporary times. The first is rather a weak story of an American couple holidaying in an Indian spa; the second , perhaps the most intense of the three is a story of an American businessman forced to visit India because of his work and the last is about a young American backpacker. Interestingly, all the characters come to India with their own ide
Jan 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a trio of novellas, Theroux takes us to India. Through the eyes of Americans, the reader discovers the beauty and the horror of the country.

Monkey Hill tells the tale of a wealthy couple visiting an exclusive spa in India. Both husband and wife encounter sexual temptation and its frightening aftermath.

The Gateway of India focuses on a lawyer and business man, Dwight Huntsinger. When the story begins, he is terrified of everything outside of his luxurious hotel room and the boardroom. By the t
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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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