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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Real Time

by
Amit Chaudhuri


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Real Time



Title: Real Time
Author: Amit Chaudhuri
Genre: Stories
Written: 2002
Length: 184 pages
Availability: Real Time - US
Real Time - UK
Real Time - Canada
  • Stories and a Reminiscence
  • These pieces were previous published in a variety of periodicals (some in more than one)

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Our Assessment:

B : elegant small pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 22/6/2002 Ranjit Bolt
The Hindu . 2/2/2003 Nilanjana Roy
The Independent . 7/8/2002 Zulfikar Abbany
The LA Times B 21/4/2002 Shashi Tharoor
The Nation . 17/6/2002 Amitava Kumar
The NY Times B 16/4/2002 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. F 21/4/2002 William Deresiewicz
The Observer C 23/6/2002 Adam Mars-Jones
San Francisco Chronicle . 14/4/2002 Fionn Meade
TLS C 28/6/2002 Robert Macfarlane
The Village Voice A 9/4/2002 Anderson Tepper
The Washington Post A 26/4/2002 Carolyn See


  Review Consensus:

  No consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is this quiet acceptance of the inevitability of disappointment, and a corresponding quiet refusal on the part of the characters quite to give in to it, that makes Real Time such a civilised collection, not to mention an immensely enjoyable read." - Ranjit Bolt, The Guardian

  • "(L)ikely to disappoint those who have acquired a taste for either his literary criticism or his novels. Stories and a Reminiscence, as the subtitle has it, doesn't begin to describe the ragbag of odds and ends included." - Nilanjana Roy, The Hindu

  • "(A)n intimate read. (...) Chaudhuri's style, often rigid and outmoded." - Zulfikar Abbany, The Independent

  • "Many of the pieces in this volume are not stories but ruminations, and the reminiscence appears as 26 pages of blank verse, charming but literal in its evocation of the author's childhood (...). But Real Time nonetheless showcases many of the strengths and limitations of Chaudhuri's writing. (...) This kind of writing will move some and exasperate others; in this collection of stories, both reactions are unavoidable." - Shashi Tharoor, The Los Angeles Times

  • "At their best, the stories in this volume combine the folk-art charm and easygoing improvisations of R.K.Narayan, with the compassion and evocative atmosphere of Chekhov. (...) Unfortunately, the slighter pieces (...) devolve into flimsy slice-of-life snapshots." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "(P)edestrian in their language, pallid in their emotions. Where Chaudhuri's gifts have gone to I don't know, but without them his writing has little impact. (...) Real Time fails to be a community's moral history because its stories remain too close to being ideas, diagrams, its characters never achieving an existence independent of the roles they've been assigned." - William Deresiewicz, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Amit Chaudhuri's rather disappointing, even perfunctory, collection of stories. (...) Everything falls into place in the section called 'E-Minor' (a title never explained), and the book comes belatedly to life." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer

  • "Set mostly in Bombay and Calcutta, the stories alight upon small disclosures in the lives of minor bureaucrats and successful businessmen, or put on display the garish incongruities between popular and traditional styles, all the while taking the time to make an occasional reverent nod toward Western high culture." - Fionn Meade, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The theme of Real Time is awkwardness, particularly the awkwardness caused by the chafing of the old and the new. Chaudhuri writes well about people meeting (.....) The biggest disappointment of Real Time is the closing reminiscence." - Robert Macfarlane, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The West Bengal city of Calcutta looms over Amit Chaudhuri's fiction; in many cases the city itself is his real subject, its myriad stories captured in exquisitely crafted, meandering prose. (...) Chaudhuri's debut collection, Real Time: Stories and a Reminiscence, enhances his position as one of the most versatile and talented of this generation. Among young writers like Pankaj Mishra, Raj Kamal Jha, and (the sadly overlooked) Sunetra Gupta, Chaudhuri is perhaps the most literary -- and self-conscious -- of them all." - Anderson Tepper, The Village Voice

  • "These wonderful Indian stories show us a world where many of us -- American or Indian or otherwise -- dwell. (...) There's no way this world can be made to yield up meaning. The only thing, for instance, an artist can do, is to record just what's in front of him. With luck, a series of meaningless fragments may possibly fit together and form some kind of pattern, but that's nothing to count on." - Carolyn See, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Amit Chaudhuri's works are of surprising calm. No fireworks and over-energetic bustle for him, no sentences and stories spinning wildly out of control. Writers often show how much they can do with language -- but it usually results in excess (often simply for the sake of excess). Chaudhuri shows how much he can do with language by reining it in.
       The pieces in Real Time are no exception: they are carefully, artfully constructed, and their ambition is in their simplicity. They are almost staid -- yet generally still engaging.
       Real Time is divided into two parts. The first -- "Stories" -- collects fifteen stories. Two are "retellings (...) of episodes from the Hindu mythologies". The rest are contemporary, set during the past few decades, generally in India (Calcutta and Bombay).
       Many are like sketches: impressions of people and events. Often a good deal of time is covered, and the story captures the blur of the recollection of all the past in the present. The first story, "Portrait of an Artist", describes the influence of mastermoshai on the narrator, presenting bits and encounters from the span of several years, yet still conveying what the man meant to the young artist. "Beyond Translation" is less than four pages long, describing the childhood pleasure of losing oneself in reading, but also managing to sketch a whole cultural scene around it. "Prelude to an Autobiography: A Fragment" suggests the possibilities of writing, as the narrator (a woman) is moved to try to write after reading Shobha De's memoirs -- a neat twist on the power of art. (Shobha De is "India's first successful pulp novelist", a bestselling author who never quite caught on outside India.)
       Not all the stories are told in the first person (as these three are), and many deal with non-literary subjects. The approach remains similar, however, with Chaudhuri sketching broadly even in what seem very specific tales. The stories come with flashes of events, but not bright, loud ones: they burst and ... well, they don't quite fizzle, but they are tempered. "The Great Game" uses cricket -- fitting Chaudhuri's approach ideally.
       Together the stories offer neat domestic scenes, relating a certain part of Indian life very nicely. Still, there is too little to some of them. The telling impresses, but the tales often do not.
       In the second part -- "E-Minor" -- Chaudhuri offers something quite different: a sonnet sequence, and then another poetic epilogue. The sonnet sequence is the reminiscence promised in the book's subtitle. It is a clever and largely successful autobiographical piece -- again spanning many years (childhood to present). Chaudhuri's piecemeal approach -- a brief focus on specific moments all fitting together in a larger whole -- works especially well here, and it is among the most successful pieces in the book.

       Real Time is a fine collection, but a quiet, almost unprepossessing book. Much impresses upon reading, yet fades too easily from memory. Perhaps Chaudhuri should invest a bit more energy, a bit more force into his efforts.

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Links:

Real Time: Reviews: Amit Chaudhuri: Other books by Amit Chaudhuri under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Indian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Indian author Amit Chaudhuri was born in 1962. He graduated from University College, London, and received his doctorate from Oxford.

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