The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Colonels, gigolos and a blockbuster

Colonel Chabert (Hesperus, £ 2.95) by Honore de Balzac is a story of hauntings — the French word for ghosts, revenants, means “those who return”. Balzac’s novella is a first Empire reworking of the Odysseus and Martin Guerre stories. His colonel was thought dead on a Napoleonic battlefield, but returns to Paris — after years in an asylum as an amnesiac — to find that everything he had left behind has moved on without him. Colonel Chabert was written a year or two before his best novels, Eugenie Grandet and Père Goriot. “Reading Balzac,” A.N. Wilson’s foreword comments, “is not a reassuring experience. It challenges our humanism, if we have any, but it ultimately does not destroy it.”

The a to z of hinduism (Vision, Rs 190) by Bruce M. Sullivan is a useful reference book written by an American professor of religious studies. It is mercifully free of saffron pieties and has stern little entries for the RSS and the VHP, although the rather garish cover might suggest otherwise. “Hinduism is a religious tradition of remarkable diversity,” the preface declares, “and no one person, however learned, could profess to know the whole of it.”

Dilwale dulhania le jayenge: the making of a blockbuster (HarperCollins, Rs 200) by Anupama Chopra is a rather hyperbolic book which claims that this film has “changed the face of Bollywood”. There are plenty of little colour photographs with captions like “Baldev feeding pigeons in London”, “Raj races a plane”, “Simran and Rajeshwari dance to rock and roll”, “Simran asks Baldev if she can go on Eurail”, “Raj and Simran reunited in the sarsaon field”, “Raj and Baldev bond over pigeon-feeding sessions” and “The brave heart takes the bride”.

Adultery and other stories (Tara, Rs 295) by Farrukh Dhondy is a set of clever and sometimes entertaining stories about an international set of characters — ageing poet, white Rastafarian, Indian gigolo, cheese impresario. Dhondy likes the epistolary mode, and his use of email gives his fiction a predictably contemporary turn. These are stories about love, lust, friendship, betrayal and other human vicissitudes. This is Patsy writing to her favourite Indian gigolo, Suresh: “My dearest 007, Has anyone told you how charismatic you look and sound when you fly off your handle' There’s no need. OK, you need some money. I got money. Does that ever come between friends'”

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