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MARCH 20, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 11

Bland Fare
A "hot" Indian novel caters to foreign tastes

For a while, Indian fiction was hotter than vindaloo. After the runaway success of Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things in 1997, publishers ransacked the subcontinent in search of a commercial successor, showering six-figure advances on unpublished novelists. Now the harvest is coming in, and it's not looking too bountiful.

Last April, the first of the New Wave novels, The Blue Bedspread, was published to lukewarm reviews. To be fair, author Raj Kamal Jha made no claim to greatness, saying he had written the book merely to cope with insomnia. The greater Indian hope was Pankaj Mishra, 30, who received a reported $300,000 advance for his debut novel, The Romantics. As a literary critic, Mishra had dared to pen a devastating review of the celebrated Salman Rushdie. He had then attacked fellow writers for catering to the Western market. And it was Mishra who discovered Roy's God of Small Things.

Indonesia: Rising From the Ashes
Charismatic former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmão brings hope that his beloved East Timor will finally be freed from centuries of fear
Starting Over: Love and food bring the crowds to the Burned House
'I Don't Feel Prepared to Lead this Country': Xanana Gusmão discusses the past and looks to the future
East Timor's Reconstruction: Is aid doing more harm than good?

Business: Sony Plays for the Big Stakes
After breaking the mold to create PlayStation 2, the Japanese company is hoping its new game box will make it a major Internet player
Test Driving the PS2: Listen to the kids: 'It's smoother, more realistic'

South Asia: Into the Breach
In tense South Asia, U.S. President Bill Clinton may face one raw, ruptured relationship he cannot heal
Viewpoint: Flirting With Trouble: When he visits the subcontinent, Clinton should stick to feel-good diplomacy

Books: A Tale of Disillusionment
Duong Thu Huong's latest novel drifts gracefully through a Vietnam plagued by soulless ideologues

Books: Bland Fare
A 'hot' Indian novel caters to foreign tastes

He turns out to be a better critic than producer of literature. His own novel, released this year, is disappointingly mediocre. The plot: a modest young Indian man, Samar, is smitten by a shallow French woman living in Benares. The affair falls apart, and the distraught Samar heads for introspection and exile in the Himalayas, where he discovers a world of enticements outside his country. In the end, however, the story goes nowhere. The novel's chief virtue is what Mishra claims to despise most: it speaks clearly and evocatively about India to a foreign audience tempted by holy cities and Himalayan detachment.

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