Pankaj Mishra is known in this country as the messenger who first brought news of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and as the author of penetrating literary essays in the New York Review of Books, the New Statesman and the TLS. As an essayist, Mishra is fastidious, his prose plain and precise, eschewing metaphor and excessive stylistic ornamentation. This precision is again evident in his first novel, The Romantics (which has attracted much advance international rights interest), but what is new, and surprising, is the lyricism of his style.
The Romantics is a kind of anti-Bildungsroman. A young unnamed Brahmin, absorbed by the scholarly dignity of his own caste, arrives in the sacred Indian city of Benares in the severe winter of 1989. He takes a room, and is quickly befriended by a group of foreigners: Catherine, the French