Manual A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta

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It is easy to imagine Theroux seated for days on those trains he loves, mentally elaborating on the glancing encounters with "real" people featured in books like The Great Railway Bazaar and Dark Star Safari. These elaborations, having passed through the portal of his vivid imagination and excoriating intellect, birth novels of equal colour, and greater power to unsettle. A Dead Hand , his 31st work of fiction, deepens the preoccupations outlined in the trilogy of novellas The Elephanta Suite. India would be the broad focus for Theroux, but what really occupies him is how Westerners - or fellow Americans, to be exact - embrace the illusions and mistake the realities of the Indian subcontinent.

Broadly, the interactions in the earlier book are selfish, delusional and exploitative. While no good comes of them, the bad that results is more metaphor than actual mayhem: Wobbly senses of identity transformed, or dissolved. The other quality to Paul Theroux's sensibility - his severe judgments of human beings, real or invented - ensures that none of those identities were benevolent, or self-aware, to begin with.

His latest foray into how the West mis-encounters the East takes these themes and judgments to a new height - or, perhaps, depth. A Dead Hand also pressures for a literal annihilation, an outcome arrested, it would seem, only by the dictates of genre fiction. As the subtitle suggests, the novel is an aspiring crime story, complete with false clues and artificial plot resolutions. Jerry Delfont is an American travel writer in Calcutta.

Long unable to produce a book, he has lately dried up even as a writer of magazine pieces, the small skill on which his small reputation is based. He has, by his own account, the "dead hand" of writer's block, and is a middle-aged wastrel at large in the monstrous Indian city. Lucky for him, he receives a letter from an enigmatic American philanthropist, and long-term Calcutta resident, asking his help in a delicate matter. The beautiful Merrill Unger presents Delfont with a nebulous crime involving one of her employees and an Indian child.

He dutifully pursues her cause out of an instant desire for her body and, to equal degree, her noble mind. The amateur sleuth is quickly embroiled. The murder, too, features a "dead hand," in this case the tiny severed limb of the victim. But Delfont is more drawn to the mysteries of Merrill Unger. She runs a private orphanage, plucking selected children out of poverty, and is a scathing critic of publicity-seeking do-gooders like Mother Teresa. A devotee of the goddess Kali, Unger is also adept at Tantric sex, a skill she shares with the grateful writer.

Indian misery, in particular the exploitation of children, is central to A Dead Hand. Theroux's acute and unsparing descriptive powers render vivid everything from Calcutta street chaos to the sensations of Tantric massage. But his clipped depiction of a brothel staffed by child prostitutes is what stays in the mind. About this scene, Merrill Unger, resplendent in a white sari and shawl, declares: A Dead Hand is the first of his books that I have read, and to be honest, it will probably be the last.

As the title implies; A Dead Hand: Delfont has been giving a series of lectures and now has some free time to spend in Calcutta - he is also suffering from writer's block dead hand.

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Delfont receives a letter fro Paul Theoux has written many fiction books but is best known for his travel writing. Delfont receives a letter from a woman called Merrill Unger - a mysterious letter claiming that her son's friend has been found dead, and could Delfont investigate? So off he goes to meet Merrill and her son and to try and find out who is the murderer.

The descriptions of Calcutta and the characterisation of Merrill are very well done, but I just found the whole writing style quite bizarre - in fact the whole plot is bizarre. In the middle of the story Delfont meets up with Paul Theroux yes, Paul Theroux, the author of this book! There are also some pretty wild, if unbelievably daft sex scenes. Keep reading to see who dunnit - but dont hold your breath! Dec 08, Nitya Sivasubramanian rated it did not like it Shelves: At one point a character in this book mentions that there are no good books about India. This is not a good book about India.

It starts out dabbling in the typical Western fascination with the "mystical beauty and wonder" of India before diving into the seedy underbelly of child labor that underpins the country's economy. Unfortunately though, the book is so American, filled with sweeping generalizations and caricatures of Indian characters, that I found reading it to be almost i At one point a character in this book mentions that there are no good books about India.

Unfortunately though, the book is so American, filled with sweeping generalizations and caricatures of Indian characters, that I found reading it to be almost intolerable. Aug 22, Huw Evans rated it did not like it Shelves: I know that Paul Theroux has a recognition as a writer of fiction larger than his abilities as a travel hack. When you do not empathise with the characters, it doesn't matter what happens to them and, to my shame, I did not stop long enough to find out.


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Oct 11, Roger rated it really liked it. I loved this book. Even though I'm not a Theroux fan, he really caught lightning in a bottle with this book. Dec 07, Jim Leckband rated it liked it.

I read a lot of John Updike in the past. They were written well, had good characterizations and plots, but they didn't "bowl" me over - I don't think he ever aimed for that. And then last year I was reading reviews of an Updike biography where we find out that almost every thing in his life ended up in his books - people, scenes, plots.

I am reading the Bech books right now - and now I see that all they are are dramatized descriptions of his various author trips to other countries or "life-as-an I read a lot of John Updike in the past. I am reading the Bech books right now - and now I see that all they are are dramatized descriptions of his various author trips to other countries or "life-as-an-author" tales.

Review: A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta, by Paul Theroux

Of course other authors do this as well. Enter "A Dead Hand". In fact, Theroux explicitly references this halfway through the novel when the main character a magazine feature writer is anxious about meeting "Paul Theroux" because Theroux will steal his soul well, it seemed like it. And throughout the book there are references to stuff being used later in books. It is obvious that Theroux is well aware of what he is doing and he can mitigate it by calling it out.

But of course there is a but! In this case, Theroux probably ran across some stories of sweatshop shenanigans when he was traveling India, and perhaps even ran across a tantric masseuse should I say the masseuse ran across him. And all this stuff, along with other things he encountered, gets sausaged into a novel. What about the book just as itself? It actually read very well. There is a noir quality to the detective and the femme fatale, the manipulated detective, and the detective as white knight avenging wrongs.

The plot is kinda one-dimensional, it does get kinda obvious after awhile in that there were no other characters to be behind the "dead hand" besides the ones that were already there. So the reader just ends up with scenarios of why, and this reader at least, wasn't too far off when the plot unraveled. Apr 14, Pablo rated it really liked it Shelves: This book has a bit of everything that India slams into the face of the western traveler. From amazing beauty to incredible poverty, highly religous and yet endlessly corrupt, people who believe they are helping while certainly helping themselves and all the while this strange mix of teeming hordes, semi middle class, and ultra rich intermingling in a weird time warped colonialism.

Roadside child prostitution and harsh child labor factories coexisting peacefully with the spirituality of tantric This book has a bit of everything that India slams into the face of the western traveler. Roadside child prostitution and harsh child labor factories coexisting peacefully with the spirituality of tantric yoga. India in a nutshell and Theroux brings that forth forcefully. Aug 05, Melissa rated it really liked it. I enjoyed the book and the fact that it seemed a meandering story to some that didn't care for it didn't bother me at all.

I like all things India so that may have been part of it but I also like in-depth character development which is a part of this novel. The end was quite haunting, I thought, and I find myself still returning to it and the cultural implications and the people involved all that it entailed. Overall, I enjoyed the journey of the main character and the entire journey! It started off promising, but then plateaued and started becoming weird. The story only got slightly interesting during the last few chapters.

Though the storyline was uninteresting, I did like how the author described Calcutta and the people there. Jul 10, Robert Cook rated it really liked it. First time reading a Theroux novel. I read "Deep South" last year, and it made we want to try some of his fiction. It was a good read, but the ending was somewhat obvious early on-Ma was too good to be true. Jun 19, Anindya Biswas rated it it was amazing.

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A brilliant look at Calcutta's underbelly and the futility of it all. Jul 22, Mystery Theater rated it liked it. Repetitive throughout and actually recursive in the end, the whole thing ends up a mystery: Why did Theroux write it? It just doesn't say anything important. Expat travel writer gets involved with bizarre woman and her inexplicable activities. He values this experience. Read my blog post for links to information about Mother Teresa: I first discovered Paul Theroux back in my early 20s when I was living in Japan and traveling through Asia. Theroux is a keen observer of differen Read my blog post for links to information about Mother Teresa: Theroux is a keen observer of different cultures, traditions, and people.

Back in those days, Mike read his novel Saint Jack, but I do not recall reading it. Theroux also wrote the book The Mosquito Coast, probably the most famous of his works because of the movie. His insightful observations and colorful descriptions of India were the best part of this book. It's the story of a travel journalist, Jerry, who is slumming in Calcutta He receives a letter from a wealthy American woman, Mrs.

Unger, who has adopted many of India's customs for her own. She wears a sari and henna tattoos, practices tantric and sensual massage, and eats only Ayurvedic food. A friend of her son had woken up in a hotel room one morning and discovers a dead body on the floor. He had panicked and run away. She professes admiration for Jerry's writing and because of this, asks him to investigate the situation, presumably to clear the boy's name. He soon enters into an odd romantic relationship with her, whereby she summons him when he fits into her schedule and shares only tiny, strange tidbits of her life.

Even though she claimed the investigation of the dead body was her primary purpose for contacting him, she soon seduces him into being her devotee. Jerry becomes completely besotted with her, and we have pages and pages ad nauseum where he writes about how pure and saintly she is. Unger always called by this name arrived in India to work with Mother Teresa at the Missionaries of Charity. She hates Mother Teresa and badmouths her to Jerry. For this reason, many have called this book anti-Catholic. And now a little diversion about M. What I was not aware of before reading this book was that Mother Teresa was a highly controversial figure.

Nearly all of it was given to the Vatican. She did what she did for her beloved church. And as many have written, those funds given for the specific purpose to help the poor and destitute have instead been used to defend pedophile priests. Mother Teresa believed that to be poor is to be holy. She did not allow her sisters or other workers to spend money on improving their own lives or the lives of the poor and sick. Google searches for "myth of Mother Teresa will yield all sorts of disenchanted stories and experiences. She was also heavily anti-aborion and anti-birth control and reproductive technologies.

I certainly will think differently of her from now on. It's ironic that Mrs. Unger criticizes Mother Teresa, because she turns out to be far worse than the tiny nun I was not very impressed with the plot of this book On the pages and pages where Jerry blathers on about what a saint Mrs. Unger is, or about how he's able to write again, I felt bored to the point of scanning. As apparently is typical for Theroux, he includes a scene with himself in the book. This is a bit weird, and if it were a better book, or if I could understand the point of the scene better, I would have accepted it more.

I believe that Theroux meant this book as an indictment on white rich people dabbling in developing countries, swooping in to help the poor and destitute He is missing the point, though, by ignoring all of the reputable and indeed-helpful white people working in the developing world, providing sustenance and support to millions of people.

Dec 29, Tjibbe Wubbels rated it liked it Shelves: Jerry Delfont is a writer residing in Calcutta, loosely based on the author. He is suffering writer's block, or as he calls it, a dead hand. He never really submerged himself in the place where he is staying, because he "was the travelling writer who always had to leave early the next morning for a new place". He feels old and broken, just as the city itself. At this point, I like what I'm reading.

Then he meets a strange woman called Ma and is asked to help solve a murder mystery, he has no oth Jerry Delfont is a writer residing in Calcutta, loosely based on the author. Then he meets a strange woman called Ma and is asked to help solve a murder mystery, he has no other choice but to get involved.

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And after a few erotic tantric massages, he is completely smitten with this women. All of a sudden he starts to see the charm in the old city. The murder mystery has to play second fiddle to this love story. Quite quickly he is completely in the power of this woman.

Now I really start to lose my interest. It's more like worshipping a cult leader then adoring a lover. The story is tedious at this stage and chock-full of repetition and endless puppy-love ramblings of an old man. Meanwhile, the woman takes him all over India and show him her philanthropy work. He no longer sees travel as evasion but as a purposeful act. He can write again! And he starts writing this book.

In the end, all is not as it seems is it ever? May 18, Joe rated it liked it.

A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta

Paul Theroux is probably best known for The Mosquito Coast since it was made into a well received movie some odd years ago , and for his travel writing, especially The Railroad Bazaar. In addition to those, I've read one other travel book, The Pillars of Hercules, and another book of fiction called Milroy the Magician. That was all some years ago. I don't remember much about Milroy, other than a lot of it dealt with bowel movements. If Milroy focussed on the positive effects of a good poo Paul Theroux is probably best known for The Mosquito Coast since it was made into a well received movie some odd years ago , and for his travel writing, especially The Railroad Bazaar.

If Milroy focussed on the positive effects of a good poop, A Dead Hand focusses somewhat on the positive effects of a good orgasm--or to be more accurate, the lack of a good orgasm, forming the basis of what is tantric sex. Really this novella could have been a novelette--or novel light? The main character I always forget their names, sorry.

One day he gets a letter from a woman, Mrs. Ungar, who wants his help in clearing the name of a male friend of hers who found a dead body in his cheap hotel room. Although this is not really his cup of tea, excuse the pun, the main character is seduced by Mrs. Ungar right away and decides to play along. This is where the middle part of the book begins to meander, much like the Ganges, as polluted perhaps, but not as holy. In Calcutta he seems to be fairly well known, enough so to attract a mysterious letter: Jerry affects to be busy, but truth to tell, he's devoid of ideas and looking for diversions.

Mrs Unger will do. Although American, she wears a bewitching sari and exudes a weird sexual power. She's the sort of character, you might say, that a bored writer with time on his hands in Calcutta might wish to slide around the bedroom door and seize him by the kundalinis. And so she does. This is a thriller of sorts, but unlike some of Theroux's previous fiction, there is little in the way of dystopian grandeur or grimly comic depths. High points do come, but rarely: In other words, Paul Theroux.

It's an unexpected touch and gives Theroux ample opportunity to skewer himself, Jerry and, by implication, plenty of other writers at the same time.


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