On the banks of the Ganges, the holy city of Benares groans and heaves along the fault line where modern India presses against its living past, as pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters while the bodies of the dead await by the thousands their turns on the burning ghats. Into this city comes in all innocence young Samar to complete his university studies and take the civil-service examinations that will determine his future. An uprooted Brahman, bearing the responsibilities of his caste but shorn of its privileges, Samar, obsessed by the intellectual culture of the West but shaped by ancient obligations due his ancestors, finds himself suspended between conflicted worlds. He is the classic young man from the provinces, propelled by curiosity and passion beyond his comprehension. He will emerge with a story to tell: a story of lost illusions and the joy and pain of love. On his journey of self-discovery, Samar is accompanied by two guides: Rajesh, an impoverished fellow Brahman, a hanger-on at the university who has mysterious powers over a band of student malcontents that has made him its leader; and Miss West, his neighbor in the ramshackle lodging where he has taken a room. Miss West--English, fortyish, her good looks so far intact--will introduce Samar to her circle of Western friends who have come to Benares seeking a culture more resonant than their own. From Rajesh, Samar will discover the dead end to which that culture has come. When he arrives in Benares, Samar knows Miss West's world only through the books he has read. By the time he is ready to leave the holy city, Samar's Brahman reserves will have been tested to the breaking point by Miss West's beautiful friend Catherine and by the horror to which Rajesh has exposed him. He survives by the grace of character and intelligence with which his brilliant creator--one of the most promising talents of his Anglo-Indian generation--has endowed him in this astonishingly mature first novel, the harbinger of a major literary career.
Literature-Fiction, British, Contemporary,