Chris Moss in Prospect Magazine:
How has India’s emergence as an economic power reshaped its cultural life? What is the moral price of literary fame? Are the artistic and publishing worlds merely branches of international finance? These are some of the big questions tackled in Pankaj Mishra’s new novel—his first in 20 years. The early chapters read like a series of lofty essays smuggled into a rambling story. But it develops into a multi-layered novel, bursting with ideas.
Arun and Aseem are two young working-class men from railway towns who get into the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. After graduation, they both ride the wave of globalisation. But while their fellow students follow the career path of real-life business “god” Rajat Gupta—the MD of McKinsey who was later imprisoned for securities fraud—Arun becomes a respected Hindi translator and Aseem a successful Anglophone writer, editor and all-round impresario. Both are drawn into the orbit of brilliant and beautiful people. There is more than a whiff of The Great Gatsby in the endless round of swish parties in London and the Hamptons attended by wealthy and more or less corrupt individuals, joined by an Indian expat elite whose cultural tastes and political postures are dictated by social media. Alia, a former model turned author, is the alluring epitome of this deracinated circle.