Friday, July 20, 2012

Abdul's Taxi to Kalighat -- a book review

Title: Abdul's Taxi to Kalighat: A celebration of Calcutta
Author: Joe Roberts
Published: 1999
Genre: Memoir (Sort of. I got suckered in again.)
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary: Joe and his wife, Emma, and their baby live in Calcutta for five months because they love it. They only stay five months because that's how much money they have. When it ran out, they went back to England.

Review: What I loved about this book was the idea, first and foremost. I mean, who wouldn't? Rambling about India just for the fun of it? Sign me up! The next most loved thing about the book was Roberts' portrayal of the people he met. Great characters. And one's I could see. With my own eyes. All the way in Oregon, U.S.A.

But that's where my love affair ends.

There was tons of history thrown in and around the narrative, and while some of it was interesting ... it mostly turned me off. Because, you know, I purchased a memoir. Not a history book. (This has happened to me before.) It's one thing to make reference (historical or otherwise) to whatever it is you are writing about, but that could be summarized in a paragraph or two -- not pages.

Also, I really wanted to know WHY? Why they chose to go to India and why they chose such a cool travel experiment in the first place and how they made it work in their assumably routine and work-filled lives back home? I mean, I know he's British, but SOME emotion would've been nice to read.

And then the book just ends.

Which was weird. And slightly irritating. I say slightly because I was kinda skimming at that point.


Anonymous said...

Dear Valerie,
I'm sorry you didn't enjoy my book. I felt that it did explain why we went - we were left some money and wanted to be somewhere warmer and cheaper for a few months. Calcutta was my wife's suggestion. I hadn't been there before but I've been many times since and it's almost my second home now. I am very interested in history, which is why I included so much. All I can say is that the book got great reviews here in the UK and in India. It got into the Indian best-seller list. I was pleased because books about India by British authors are often treated warily by Indian readers. I read one once that referred to 'the goddess' Shiva several times! I have a novel set in India coming out later this year. I've written lots of journalism but I haven't written a travel memoir since Abdul's Taxi. The baby in the book is now approaching the age of 17! Anyway, you can't please everybody as you probably well know. I suspect if the history bits hadn't bored you into skimming, the ending might not have seemed so sudden. I'm glad you liked the characters.
All the best,
Joe Roberts

Valerie Willman said...

Hi Joe.

I'm dreadfully sorry if I offended you. I had no idea you'd actually find my little review, or my little blog. (A learning experience for me! -- Don't write what you wouldn't stay to someone's face.) :)

I really did enjoy your writing style, and actually am currently on the look-out for "Three-Quarters of a Footprint." Also, your NOVEL set in India sounds GREAT. What's the title? I'll put it on my wish list. (I *do* love all things Indian.)

Thanks for writing to me, Joe. And again, I'm sorry for the less than stellar review.


Anonymous said...

I'm not offended at all. The book came out nearly 12 years ago so it was interesting to see that there'd been a new review. And it might interest somebody enough to read it for themselves. 'Three-Quarters of a Footprint' was even longer ago but people generally liked it and it stayed in print in various editions for ten years. I can't read it myself any more! The novel is called 'Bengal, The Cold Weather, 1873' and it's about Edward Lear in India. I'm trying to get to Gujarat this year for the Times though travel funded by writing is getting harder to wangle. It's interesting that you're an American Indophile. I've hardly come across any Americans in India - except in Rajasthan - most find it too uncomfortable. In Calcutta, you sometimes find American Christian missionaries who have nothing but contempt for Hinduism. I have met a few very scholarly Americans in places like Varanasi. To me, India's a lifelong passion and Emma and I plan to live there when our three kids are grown up.