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In 1975, at the height of Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency”, V. S. Naipaul returned to India, the country his ancestors had left 100 years earlier. Out of that journey he produced this concise masterpiece: a vibrant, defiantly unsentimental portrait of a society traumatized by centuries of foreign conquest and immured in a mythic vision of its past.
Drawing on novels, news reports, political memoirs, and his own encounters with ordinary Indians - from a supercilious prince to an engineer constructing housing for Bombay’s homeless - Naipaul captures a vast, mysterious, and agonized continent inaccessible to foreigners and barely visible to its own people. He sees both the burgeoning space program and the 5,000 volunteers chanting mantras to purify a defiled temple; the feudal village autocrat and the Naxalite revolutionaries who combined Maoist rhetoric with ritual murder. Relentless in its vision, thrilling in the keenness of its prose, India: A Wounded Civilization is a work of astonishing insight and candor.