excerpt from the New York Times Sunday Book Review:
From Gandhi to Gatsby
By SAMANTH SUBRAMANIAN:
The project of the Indian republic has never been short on ambition. It now cinches 1.2 billion people into a pluralist democracy, and its recent experiments with economic reform have made the project still bolder. Perhaps this is why the moment seems to call for nonfiction about India that must match its subject for ambition. The platonic ideal of this book requires it to be rewarding to both Indians and outsiders; to possess the fluid art of literature but also the sweat-stained craft of journalism; to be encyclopedic and anecdotal; and to seek, within its characters, metaphors for their country at large.
Perhaps no such book has been published because no such book can exist.
Shrewdly, Siddhartha Deb’s “The Beautiful and the Damned” avoids reaching for this category altogether and is very much the finer book for it. Deb, the author of two novels and an associate professor at the New School, borrows his title from F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his mission is similar to Fitzgerald’s: to ponder, at intimate range, lives within a society in great ferment. “A country that has seen a sudden infusion of wealth and a rapid disengagement with its past tends to throw up people who are traveling very quickly and seem to have no clear antecedents,” Deb writes in the book’s first chapter, almost by way of laying out his thesis. This describes the Roaring Twenties as well as it describes India in the 21st century.