Temptations of the West How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

Pankaj Mishra




Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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 A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice In Temptations of the West, Pankaj Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on journeys through South Asia, and considers the pressures of Western-style modernity and prosperity on the region. Beginning in India, his examination takes him from the realities of Bollywood stardom, to the history of Jawaharlal Nehru's post-independence politics. In Kashmir, he reports on the brutal massacre of thirty-five Sikhs, and its intriguing local aftermath. And in Tibet, he exquisitely parses the situation whereby the atheist Chinese government has discovered that Tibetan Buddhism can be "packaged and sold to tourists." Temptations of the West is essential reading about a conflicted and rapidly changing region of the world.


Praise for Temptations of the West

“This is a book written for the West, by a man with a stake in two worlds, who moves through languages . . . and who travels uneasily, so that most of us can stay at home.  For the West it makes bitter reading.  It explores a legacy of bungling and bad faith, of cultural incomprehension and pragmatic exploitation, and the export of two ideas—the idea of the nation-state and the idea of democracy—which have arrived in the East in a deteriorated and contaminating condition . . . It is impossible in a short form to do justice to the density and complexity of his arguments, to his comprehensive illustrations, to his scathing demolition of the comfort zones of both East and West, and to the intrepid and endlessly questioning spirit which lies behind his book.”—Hilary Mantel, The New York Review of Books
“An insightful new book that blends journalism, travel writing, memoir, and sharp political commentary . . . Mishra’s clear-eyed analysis offers a timely look at the deadly intersection of politics, religion and terrorism . . . Mishra is at his best when focused on India.  His dense analysis of the cultural forces that have given rise to terrorism, religious clashes and anti-American sentiment on the Indian subcontinent challenges the myth of a new India united under the banner of economic progress.”—Alexandra Alter, The Miami Herald
"[A] fascinating, angry book about the impact of modernity on India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Tibet. Temptations of the West tells of the complex, often violent struggle of ancient societies to define themselves in the face of cultural, political and religious intrusions from outside . . . Mishra has a talent for discovering such extraordinary, even lurid characters to illuminate his account of dashed dreams, clashing religions, huge wealth, crushing poverty, corruption, oppression and, almost unbelievably, hope . . . This is not a gentle book, but it is a brave one—and, for anyone in the West able to look beyond clichés and rhetoric, an essential one."—Ben MacIntyre, The New York Times Book Review
"Novelist and New York Review of Books regular Mishra blends reportage with travel memoir in a riveting collection of essays about religion, poverty and political jockeying in southern Asia. Examining the clash between tradition and modernity, the author seeks to understand the seeds and fruits of both Hindu nationalism and radical Islam . . . Subtle, sobering and very smart."—Kirkus Reviews  

"Mishra, a Hindu Indian journalist and novelist, here provides first-person reporting of major turmoil in eight Asian countries in recent years. These are standalone chapters: covered here are the legacy of the Nehrus in Allahabad, the Islam-Hindu conflicts in Ayodhya, the corruption of the Bollywood movie industry, Kashmir and its continuing Muslim-Hindu conflicts, Pakistan for more of the same, and Afghanistan and its continuing quagmire, plus brief chapters summarizing recent events in Nepal and Tibet . . . A worthwhile read given this region's increasing importance on the world stage, but be braced for discouragement."—Library Journal
"Mishra, a literary journalist of conscience, follows his distinctive inquiry into Buddhism, An End to Suffering, with a set of probing essays about strife and sorrow in volatile South Asia. There is as much history as reportage in Mishra's complex, sometimes long-winded, yet always striking analysis of the ongoing, often horrifically violent confrontations between Hindus and Muslims, the privileged and the destitute, entrenched authorities and renegade militants. Mishra does address the West's role in these intractable battles, as his title suggests, but he is primarily concerned with evoking the texture of daily life in the places he visits, and with tracing the insidious influence of hate and corruption. Mishra presents scathing interpretations of the legacy of Indira Gandhi, India's nuclear ambitions, and Hindu nationalism. He is even more intense in his shattering chronicle of the atrocities and paradoxes rife in contested Kashmir. Unusually insightful and eloquent, Mishra deftly deciphers forces political, religious, and economic; vividly profiles remarkable individuals; and, most resonantly, expresses compassion for all who are forced to live in fear."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Mishra eloquently expresses his indignation at folly and injustice in these eight travelogues and profiles illuminating the challenge of Western-style globalization in South and Central Asia, where the pull of the West is countered by the politics of nationalism. In 'Allahabad: The Nehrus, the Gandhis, and Democracy,' Mishra weaves bitter commentary on the postcolonial dynasties into his observations of the 'uneven' process of democracy at work during the 2000 elections in the 'decaying' North India city of Allahabad. Mishra draws a complex portrait of successful Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt in 'Bollywood: India Shining,' whom Mishra is prepared to find reprehensible but comes to afford grudging respect. Mishra brings the same eye for character to 'Kashmir: The Cost of Nationalism,' about the brutal 'cycle of retribution' between Muslims and Hindus in the contested region. On meeting a pro-India renegade commander who epitomizes an 'unthinking preference for violence and terror,' Mishra watches the man's 'movie star glamour and . . . brute power' fall away as the commander demands a 'free hand' in dealing with Muslim guerrillas. These instances of vivid description and personal reaction provide moments of clarity in this dense, well-written book."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Pankaj Mishra is the author of the novel The Romantics, and An End to Suffering. His writing frequently appears in the The New York Review of Books, Granta, and London's Times Literary Supplement. He lives in London and India.
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  • Pankaj Mishra

  • Pankaj Mishra is the author of the novel The Romantics, and An End to Suffering. His writing frequently appears in the The New York Review of Books, Granta, and London's Times Literary Supplement. He lives in London and India.
  • Pankaj Mishra Nina Subin