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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

In Light of India

Octavio Paz

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To purchase In Light of India

Title: In Light of India
Author: Octavio Paz
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1995 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 209 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: In Light of India - US
In Light of India - UK
In Light of India - Canada
Lueurs de l'Inde - France
Im Lichte Indiens - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Vislumbres de la India
  • Translated by Eliot Weinberger

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good introduction to India

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Sci. Monitor A 18/6/1997 Merle Rubin
The Economist A 21/6/1997 .
The LA Times A- 30/3/1997 Agha Shahid Ali
The New Yorker . 23/6/1997 .
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/3/1997 Raleigh Trevelyan
Salon A 31/3/1997 Edward Neuert
San Francisco Chronicle . 31/8/1997 Abbas Milani

  Review Consensus:

  An impressive book.

  From the Reviews:
  • "His manner is relaxed -- a ruse that draws the reader, unsuspecting, into concentrated thought on ideas that are subtle and demanding. Memorably observed with all the eloquence and insight you would suppose, this is recognisably the work of a great poet. Yet these skills are married to political sophistication and sustained analytic power -- a rare enough combination." - The Economist

  • "(A)n urbanely informal yet highly informative look at the history and culture of that ancient, multifarious land. Written with Paz's hallmark erudition and sophistication, it also displays his remarkable gift for making complicated things accessibly clear, without oversimplifying or cheapening them. (...) A sympathetic, often admiring, student of Indian culture, Paz does not hesitate to point out its limitations, weaknesses, and besetting problems." - Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Paz's tone is never that of someone who has found final truths but, rather, of someone who is willing to have his truths qualified. (...) Paz the poet intoxicates; Paz the thinker ensures that this is not at the cost of reason and fairness. He intoxicates with reason." - Agha Shahid Ali, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he essays in this ambitious book (...) are certainly not "glimpses"; they are the result of long experience and study, beginning with reminiscences of great charm but leading to disquisitions on India's history, its religions, philosophy and such things as caste, Sanskrit erotic poetry, sculpture and architecture." - Raleigh Trevelyan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) precise, learned and lucid series of essays." - Edward Neuert, Salon

  • "Paz's reverence for India seems to have made him unwilling to pass any judgment about even the most troubling aspects of the culture. The obvious case in point is the caste system. (...) This abdication of judgment, however, is incidental in an otherwise richly compassionate and savvy vision of India and its wonders." - Abbas Milani, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Octavio Paz first came to India in 1951: after Mexico formally established relations he was assigned to be under-secretary at the new mission, though he only remained a relatively short time. In 1962, however, he was named Mexican ambassador to India, a post he held until he resigned in 1968 (in protest over the actions taken by the Mexican government -- the "bloody repression" that shook Mexico City that fall). He would return again, briefly, in later years, and always had a strong fascination for country and culture. Several of the Nobel laureate's books arose directly out of his Indian experiences, notably The Monkey Grammarian as well as the poems collected in A Tale of Two Gardens (see our review)
       Paz writes that In Light of India is "an introduction to answer the questions that India poses to everyone who visits it." There is some autobiographical material, especially in the introductory opening section, and then again in the "Farewell". Most of the book, however, is essentially an introduction to India, presenting its history, its religions (and the tensions -- positive and negative -- between them), its culture, and its philosophies.
       Paz's survey is brief and quick, covering large amounts of material, focussing only on certain details and supplying many generalities. Nevertheless, it is a very good distillation of many of the significant aspects of Indian history and culture.
       Paz found in India a good mirror for examining his own homeland: "The strangeness of India brought to mind that other strangeness: my own country." He is particularly good in describing the colonial experiences and their effect in India: the Muslim influence forced on the country under the Mughals, as well as the later British influence. He only sketches the complex changes the country underwent, but he chooses illuminating foci -- the educational reforms of 1835 and the significant decision to teach English in schools and the lasting effect that had, for example.
       Paz also knew several of the significant political figures, as well as many of the cultural figures active in the 1950s and 60s (and afterwards). He generally provides thoughtful analyses of the statesmen and their actions (though he is careful in what he says).
       Paz also devotes considerable space to Indian literature -- again offering a relatively rough survey (and focussed largely on what is available in English translation -- though making readers aware of how much is not). Here again he neatly ties the strands of Indian culture together, particularly regarding poetry, which (understandably) he is perhaps most familiar with.
       Paz does have certain biases ("I find modern societies repellent"), and they do colour his account. Additionally, his experience of India is somewhat selective, his foci limited. Paz himself acknowledges as much: the book is the work of an amateur, but a knowledgeable one: "It is the child not of knowledge but of love." The strongest parts of the book are those that are the most personal, and one almost wishes that he had injected more autobiography into the work.
       A good introduction to India, In Light of India must be considered with some care and an awareness of its limitations. It is, however, a useful text and can certainly be recommended.

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In Light of India: Reviews: Octavio Paz: Other books by Octavio Paz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican poet and author Octavio Paz (1914-1998) won the Nobel Prize in 1990.

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