September 5, 2012

The Revised Kama Sutra. ~ Mark Ledbetter

A Book Review

*Note: elephantjournal.com received this item for free, in return for a guarantee to review it. That said, the reviewer says what he wants—good and bad, happy and sad.

An Exuberant Catcher In The Rye, spiced with the author’s indefatigable love of hilarious word play.

Open minded as always, Ele asked me to do some writing for this wonderful journal and provide a view from the other side, as it were. I politely declined. That was yesterday. Today, I’ve changed my mind. Sort of. I could give my view from the other side, but it would only be the other side of the Western side. Rather, I’d like to introduce you to a view from a real other side, a book called The Revised Kama Sutra.

The author is Richard Crasta, a great if unknown third-world writer from southern India. He grew up before India’s modern economic renaissance, but the India he writes about is still the real India of the past. He was given a Western name by his Catholic parents but, for what it’s worth, is pure unadulterated Indian. He is not a western-educated person from the Third World. Unlike them, he grew up third-world. Unlike all those recent and famous Indian authors, who have real Indian names, Richard Crasta grew up in appalling, unimaginable poverty, without the advantages of upper class education. Nor did he follow the standard (for upper class Indian writers) Oxford/Cambridge life course.

His novel received some success when it was first published. It garnered rave reviews in the mainstream literary press, attracted the notice of authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and generated talk of prestigious awards. And then, due largely to his disputes with publishers, Crasta fell off the literary map. He was neither diplomatic nor realistic in how he dealt with the big corporations. That was one mistake. You can get that story in another of his books, The Killing of an Author. One more mistake: he quit using an Indian pen name and suddenly lots of people were no longer interested. “Western” Indians with Indian names became rich and famous. Richard Crasta, a real Indian from the real India, sank slowly into oblivion and the kind of poverty he knew as a child.

Now he is trying to revive his life and career without a publisher. E-books have made that possible. If you want to help, take a look at Revised Kama Sutra. If you want to know more about the book itself, read this Amazon review. It’s mine. I have given myself permission to reuse it here…

The Revised Kama Sutra: A Novel of Colonialism and Desire

Affected by the Western rationalism and science of his schoolbooks, the poor but brilliant Vijay rejects the rigid code of South Indian Catholicism, giving up God, religion, and his dream of becoming a saint. From there, Vijay’s story becomes a search for meaning in a godless material world.

 To borrow a bit from a perceptive previous review, Revised Kama Sutra is an exuberant Catcher In The Rye, a South Indian Confederacy of Dunces, spiced with the author’s indefatigable love of hilarious word play. Unlike Catcher and COD, though, Kama is autobiographical (if not, my apologies to the author).

So far, so good. You might want to read it. But if I add it’s a story about obsession with sex (not that Vijay gets much!), will you change your mind? Can’t be helped. It’s the gut-busting hilarity of Vijay’s quest to lose his virginity that keeps the story moving.

We are all obsessed. The difference between most of us and Vijay is that we hide away our obsessions or sublimate them under something more suitable for public viewing.

So there it is. That’s what the book’s about. Good stories usually have something more. A Western reader learns what Pax Brittania and Pax Americana look like from the other side, about grinding third world poverty seen not through the eyes of Western pity, but as a normal everyday reality. The reader learns how traditional power structures dominate traditional societies despite a veneer of outside Western values (i.e., not much chance we’re going to make any real societal changes in Afghanistan and Iraq with an army). The reader also sees the way the English language permeates everything, is pursued by everyone and becomes something new in the process (this last, fascinating to me as a linguist).

Revised Kama Sutra is not your standard novel by a long shot. For those who want to avoid such things, there are X-rated sections, but ultimately and thankfully, this story is uplifting and powerful at the end when the author realizes, in spite of himself, there must be something more.


 Mark Ledbetter is “just a guy who likes Ele and wants to help a guy who needs and deserves it”.





Editor: Malin Bergman

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