Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Buy This Book: Night in Bombay by Louis Bromfield

I am reading a book called Night in Bombay by Louis Bromfield, first published in 1940 and recently republished by Penguin India. It is one of the best books I've ever read. Set in Bombay during the 1930s, it looks at the lives of ex-pats and Indian royals--and the Indians who work for them. He is one of the few writers I can say has genuine understanding and empathy for all his characters--not the pop psych kind that passes today for empathy (and often seems tinged with sniffy disapproval) but something so keen and profound and without agenda it changes the way you view everything and everyone. He was also a conservationist looong before it was fashionable and founded the Malabar Farm in Ohio. I'd heard of him before in relation to his book The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg, although I've never read it or any of his other works (I shall read them all now). It's a literary novel with just enough potboiler to keep me entertained.

Review from The Hindu.

Wikipedia page
Works in the Public Domain
Buy this book


One of the things I loved about this book, not just for the author's time but for ours, is the way he saw each character as an individual sexual being, and writes with frankness and sympathy about sex, without vulgarity, neurosis (Fitzgerald), or the jarring coyness of Hemingway, for example. One of the reviews noted that he stereotypes. But rarely, and never with cruelty, and all the stereotypes are somehow subverted by the end. The example cited, a generalization about coolies who become drivers, struck me differently. I saw it as a generalization, but one imbued with empathy. Coolies are human beasts of burden and I thought he had sharp insight into what it must be like to go from that state to being in control of a powerful machine.