In 1999, Amit Chaudhuri moved back to Calcutta, the city in which he was born. It was a place he had loved in his youth and the place he had made his name writing about. But upon his return he discovered that the Calcutta of his imagination had receded and another had taken its place. Lyrical, observant and profound, Calcutta is a personal account of two years (2009-2011) spent in one of the least known - yet greatest - cities of our time by one of our leading novelists. Using the historic elections of 2011 as a fulcrum, Chaudhuri looks back to the nineteenth century, when the city burst with a new vitality, and towards the twenty-first, when - utterly changed - it seems to be on the verge of another turn. Along the way he evokes all that is most particular and extraordinary. From the homeless and the working class to the old, declining haute bourgeois; from the new malls and hotels to old houses being destroyed by developers; from politicians on their way out to the city's fitful attempts to embrace globalisation, Calcutta brings a multifarious universe to life.
'Like its structure, the book's meticulous phrasing and seductive charm echo the allure of a self-concious city whose history is not to be found in libraries. Already a poet, musician, critic and novelist, in Calcutta Amit Chaudhuri bravely - and brilliantly - embraces new form that is, in many ways, the expression of the city itself.' -- John Keay Literary Review 'This personal account of two years living there, 2009-2011, is written in typically elegant prose.' Daily Telegraph 'A forensic portrayal - that crackles with honesty and swoons with tenderness - of a city at the heart of India's change. One that resists and embraces it in equal measure.' Monocle Magazine 'Chaudhuri concentrates on the everyday and there's something admirable about the calm confidence of his unelectric narratives - of buying some vintage windows, of a street food vendor or a friend of the family. His India isn't only the exotic other we're still so invested in, and his truths, quietly disclosed, are highly valuable.' -- Paul Laity Prospect 'Concussed by the noise of the new and beguiled by echoes of the past, Chaudhuri maintains his novelists eye and ear for Calcutta's character and citizens. He combines the serendipity of the flaneur with the sensitivity of the social historian.' The Times 'What's a memoir when you don't have memories? Amit Chaudhuri brings his literary imagination to create his childhood home from scratch. Chaudhuri picks up the exploration of unreliable memory where Proust and Nabokov left off.' Stylist 'Chaudhuri's trysts with the past are entrancing in their lyricism, and simply stunning in their intelligence and percipience,' Independent 'Chaudhuri's highly personal preoccupations provide an insight into how Calcutta is attempting to adapt to globalisation. The essays add up to a warm, vivid and often humorous portrait of his birthplace.' Sunday Times 'Calcutta, a non-fiction account of the present-day city, has a leisurely, discursive feel, offering asides on the Bengal craze for Italian food and the snobberies of the city's fast-dwindling anglophone Indian class. Chaudhuri, a fastidious if elegant writer, nevertheless keeps the pages turning. Like VS Naipaul before him, Chaudhuri weaves his reportage with bibliographic allusions and excels at revealing the spirit of his chosen place. Wise and subtle, Chaudhuri wears his erudition lightly and weaves personal anecdote into enduring reportage.' Sunday Telegraph 'This surprising book works for many reasons. The range of angles from which he approaches these places gives the book great depth. The historical, the haphazard, the literary and intellectual - and the personal, for this is where his parents live and his father is fading. Chaudhuri's Calcutta has a different scope and intention to Suketu Mehta's Maximum City (about Mumbai) and to William Dalrymple's City of Djinns (about Delhi), but like those books, it succeeds brilliantly in making sense of a place few of us can know.' -- Anthony Sattin Observer 'Chaudhuri's writing has a strangely mesmeric quality, using the quotidian to draw the reader into the author's mental world, his own way of looking. At its best it reads like Sebald or Naipaul in A Way in the World. His prose displays an ability amounting to brilliance for finding the right words to catch an emotion, a thought, a personality.' -- Patrick French Financial Times 'India's great cities have been the subject of many outstanding travel books and now it is the turn of Calcutta. His stories are spun out of a mix of history and family memoir, but the joy here lies in his digressions, his wanderings through the city, his remembrances and conjectures.' -- Anthony Sattin Sunday Times 'Beautifully written paean to the place.' -- Giles Foden Conde Nast Traveller 'Chaudhuri is an engaging host who writes fluently and accessibly about big themes. It's a rewarding glimpse into a deftly-sketched world.' We Love This Book 'Chaudhuri uses the 2011 election as a fulcrum to examine the multifarious history of the place.' The Bookseller
About Amit Chaudhuri
AMIT CHAUDHURI is the author of five highly acclaimed novels: A Strange and Sublime Address, Afternoon Raag, Freedom Song, A New World, and The Immortals. He is also a poet, an acclaimed musician, and a highly regarded critic, and has edited The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia. Amit Chaudhuri lives in Calcutta and Norwich.
Calcutta: Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri
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