Title: The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India
Author: Siddhartha Deb
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Rating: 4 out of 5
After living in the United States for six years, Siddhartha Deb returned to India as a journalist. While working on a news story undercover at a call center, he began to wonder about the state of modern India, with all of its contradictions and opposites. He decided to interview those around him, and over the course of five years, put together this book discussing the lives of nine different Indians.
Siddhartha Deb takes on a monumental task in The Beautiful and the Damned: he tries to paint a clear portrait of modern India. The problem is, the country is so complicated, and the economic, cultural, and religious differences between its people so vast that it’s a near impossible thing to do.
The book is divided into nine different chapters, each of which focuses on one person or situation Deb has observed. He follows the story where it leads, not trying to structure the story to suit his needs or make any kind of specific point. As a result, he finds absurdities around every corner. Some of these stories are so sad, they’re comical. Other times, the reader wants to weep for the injustices inherent in the system. The reader gets to know these people, coming to understand the way they think, not an easy feat considering how different each of them are.
The Beautiful and the Damned doesn’t really have an overall plot or structure to drive the narrative, so it can meander sometimes. Each of these chapters can stand alone, and Deb doesn’t provide a lot of commentary to tie the stories together, so it’s up to the reader to make their own conclusions. Additionally, Deb assumes the reader is familiar with the basics of recent Indian history, so this might not be the best option for the casual reader. For someone interested in India and familiar with her quirks, though, this is a marvelous read.
While The Beautiful and the Damned isn’t perfect, it is a well-executed and detailed narrative about the state of modern India. Deb doesn’t overwhelm the book with his personal journey, instead letting his journalism speak for itself. He presents an honest and unflinching look at the hardships and difficulties of modern India, while also letting the beautiful nature of the country shine through.