"General observations, copulation, seduction, marriage, adultery, prostitutes, and erotic arcana," the seven subjects treated by the Kamasutra, are also the motifs of Siegel's whimsical farce. Presented as the unscholarly annotated version of the Indian erotic lexicon as translated by deceased professor of Asian studies Leopold Roth, the novel interpolates the commentary of Roth's skeptical literary executor and former student, Anang Saigha, with notes from ancient translators of the text. Roth's Kamasutra bears little resemblance to the original Sanskrit. It is, in fact, a hymn to entirely uninterested college senior Lalita Gupta, whom Roth construes as the vessel for all his romantic, Eastern fantasies. Ditsy, foul-mouthed Lalita cares nothing about her parents' native land, but to Roth she is a goddess, repository of the East's erotic and spiritual wisdom. Half-mad with love, Roth carries Lalita off to India for a "summer study course" (she's the only pupil) and seduces her in a hotel at Khajuraho where a famed erotic sculpture stands. Upon their return to L.A., Roth is suspended from teaching, Lalita's parents charge him with rape, and his wife, Sophia--women's studies prof and chair of the sexual harassment committee--dumps him. While inserts and footnotes heighten the absurdity (the book is dense with cartoons, Hollywood memorabilia, news clips and 19th-century travelogues), Siegel's criticisms of orientalization and exoticism are serious. And Roth has more than just Lalita on his mind: his daughter Leila was murdered at the age of 12, leaving Roth, his wife and Leila's twin bereft. This multifaceted novel is also a whodunit, for Professor Roth died no natural death. His body was found in his office, hit from behind with a Sanskrit-English dictionary. While this ribald romp, satire on Westerners' spiritual hunger and sendup of academia may prove too rarefied and serpentine for some tastes, others will find it a sophisticated treat. (May)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Siegel's sixth book (after City of Dreadful Night, 1995, etc.) is a flat chore, defrauding the reader of an engaging story with dense typographical hocus-pocus and the bland tatter of footnotes, appendices, and an ostensibly saucy theme. The novel's structure is distractingly complex. At the core of the text is Professor Leopold Roth's translation of the Indian taxonomy of sex, the Kamasutra. Appended to this translation are Roth's commentaries on each section of the work, and contained in them is the vaguely entertaining story of his seduction of Lalita, a Californian undergraduate of Indian descent who is tricked into taking a trip to India with the professor. This tale is intended to illustrate Roth's understanding and practice of the Kamasutra's preceptswith Lalita as his object. The plot concludes with Roth's murder; after the death, one of Roth's graduate students, Anang Saighal, assumes the thankless task of assembling the uncollected translation into book form, while providing his own footnoted commentary on both the translation and the story already told in the commentaries. A transparently Nabokovian strategy emboldens Siegel throughout. Footnotes and references to the Zemblan language recall Pale Fire, while the seduction theme mimics Lolita: "Once I had seen the beautiful Indian girl in the sari with the red bindi on her forehead in my Comparative Phonology class, I threw out the Mao poster, folded up the Chinese flag, and bought a poster of the Taj Mahal and a print of Krishna playing his flute for love-enraptured, dancing milkmaids " Nabokov, though, undergirded his complex constructions with brimming plots and full characters. Siegel's counterparts are flat,dull, relentlessly triviala cascade of comments, asides, interpretations, and appendices. Textually dense, erotically lukewarm, and narratively inert: an unrewarding novel, with its inverted pages, computer-screen replications, and transcripts, that's too fascinated with how it looks to concern itself with how it readspoorly, at best. .