Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Google eBook)

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Jun 15, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 304 pages
5 Reviews
From the author of The Last Mughal (“A compulsively readable masterpiece” —The New York Review of Books), an exquisite, mesmerizing book that illuminates the remarkable ways in which traditional forms of religious life in India have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change—a book that distills the author’s twenty-five years of travel in India, taking us deep into ways of life that we might otherwise never have known exist.

A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet—and spends the rest of his life atoning for the violence by hand printing the finest prayer flags in India . . . A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her closest friend ritually starve herself to death . . . A woman leaves her middle-class life in Calcutta and finds unexpected fulfillment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground . . . A prison warder from Kerala is worshipped as an incarnate deity for three months of every year . . . An idol carver, the twenty-third in a long line of sculptors, must reconcile himself to his son’s desire to study computer engineering . . . An illiterate goatherd from Rajasthan keeps alive in his memory an ancient four-thousand-stanza sacred epic . . . A temple prostitute, who initially resisted her own initiation into sex work, pushes both her daughters into a trade she nonetheless regards as a sacred calling.

William Dalrymple chronicles these lives with expansive insight and a spellbinding evocation of circumstance. And while the stories reveal the vigorous resilience of individuals in the face of the relentless onslaught of modernity, they reveal as well the continuity of ancient traditions that endure to this day. A dazzling travelogue of both place and spirit.

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I thought that this book was very educational and I learned a lot from it. Not only does it tell interesting stories, the book also provides an excellent historical background and gives an articulate explanation on the beliefs of the religions in India. An example would be in the story of the Jain nun, where he gives a good explanation of Jainism and it’s beliefs. This book also helped me learn how religion is changing in India’s modernization, an example of that would be in the story of the Theyyam dancer and some children of the Theyyam dancers are educated and are ascending the job ladder. The most compelling story for me was the one about the temple prostitutes, I never really knew that much about temple prostitution and I knew it existed in ancient times but not in modern times. William Dalrymple is well traveled and very informed about religion in modern India, and he uses it to let more people know about this issue. In all, this book helped me learn about religion in India and is recommended for fellow readers. 

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A good read and a great compilation of lives form various background. The storytelling style sounded too similar across all stories though which made it not so interesting to read at times. But overall an insightful and well researched effort.


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About the author (2010)

William Dalrymple is the author of six previous acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson; and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The Guardian.

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