In his introduction, Dalrymple says he yearns for his narratives to be free of authorial interference. But of course that can't be. He not only creates their framework but inevitably, if unobtrusively, steers his interviews to the areas of his own interest. Yet these will be the areas of most readers' interest too. The narratives Dalrymple unearths are fascinating and sometimes painfully moving, and he surrounds them with generous knowledge. This is the India we seldom see, populated by obscure people whose lives are made vivid by their eloquent troubles and reckless piety.
The New York Times
As William Dalrymple shows in his strikingly colorful new book, to be Indian is to inhabit a carnival of strangely colliding worlds, a profusion of identities with sharply defined regional variants. Nowhere is this more evident than in the country's spiritual life…Nine Lives is a collection of portraits depicting nine worshipers who practice wildly different forms of devotion in a vortex of dizzying change. Part travelogue, part reportage, part anthropology, the book hews to a theme that has long fascinated Dalrymple: how cultures in peril survive.
The Washington Post
"A singular achievement. . . . A deeply respectful and sympathetic portrait of those modest souls seldom mentioned in the headlines." —Pico Iyer, Time
"Not only a masterful text, but also an extaordinarily important work." —San Francisco Chronicle
"Fascinating and sometimes painfully moving. . . . This is the India we seldom see, peopled by obscure people whose lives are made vivid by their eloquent troubles and reckless piety." —The New York Times Book Review
"[This is] the age for writers like Mr. Dalrymple, who fall in with the rhythms and languages of foreign lands. Nine Lives shows us lives hidden almost entirely from Western readers. . . opening up the world in a compelling way." —Wall Street Journal
“Informed, compassionate, and careful to place the emphasis where it belongs: on the extraordinary people whose stories [Dalrymple] conveys.” —Harper’s
“Strikingly colorful. . . . [Dalrymple’s] point—which he makes elegantly by quoting many voices—is that, as India hurtles toward modernity, it may be losing some of its soul.” —The Washington Post
“Luminous. . . . Consists of nine riveting and thickly reported tales of individual devotion, which together summon up a whole world and sometimes end with devastating twists. . . . Nine Lives will only enhance [Dalrymple’s] reputation.” –The New Republic
“Fulfills the premise that a master artist can make something very difficult look easy. . . . You don’t have to know a thing about India to enjoy this book, but when you’re done you will know and appreciate much more about its people and their various lives—of the body, of the spirit and of the heart.” —The Seattle Times
“Fascinating. . . . These might seem like exotic characters, but Dalrymple allows them to tell their own stories, and they emerge as deeply sympathetic and human.” —Newsday
“Triumphant. . . . Not only illuminates India’s relationship with religion but casts the genre itself in a new light. . . . A wise and rewarding book fizzing with Dalrymple’s signature erudition and lightness of touch. . . . The travel book of the year.” —The Guardian (London)
“An absolutely beautiful book, clean and honest and edifying and moving. . . . It’s a delight.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“A wonderful pageant of believers whose stories are as much about spirituality as about society.”—Christian Science Monitor
“Moving. . . His nine articulate individuals are from highly distinctive and unusual milieus, and they embody the tensions and ideals of the great Indian systems of belief in personal, often painful ways. Taken together, they easily subvert conventional notions about Indian religiosity and provide an excellent antidote to much of what one reads in English about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.” —New York Review of Books
“Not since Kipling has anyone evoked village India so movingly. . . . The book gives an answer to Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and those who would condemn all religions for the sake of the fanatical fringe.” —Wendy Doniger, Times Literary Supplement
“Straightforward reporting, clear writing and empathetic listening.” —The Plain Dealer
“An absorbing book. . . . Dalrymple is a lively, knowledgeable and sympathetic guide to this world of faith.” —The Daily Telegraph
“Exquisite. . . . William Dalrymple dazzles us with stories of how a deeper reality strokes the fire of life in the recesses of our souls. . . . By peering into the secret passages of their psyches, we learn more about our own self, our fantasies, our shadows, our longings, our hidden potential.” —Deepak Chopra
For the last 20 years, Scotsman Dalrymple (The Last Mughals) has made the Indian subcontinent his bailiwick. In his introduction here, he describes Nine Lives as "a collection of non-fiction short stories," and he does portray the "pluralist religious and philosophic folk traditions" found in India in a way that is compelling and accessible to all readers. His subjects here are all people living on the margins: we meet a wandering Jain nun, a Tantric housewife whose abode is the cremation ground, a Sufi holy woman, a refugee from two countries, a blind Baul minstrel, and a Rajasthani bard who can recite from memory an epic of 626 pages, to name only a few. Dalrymple shows us the "lived experience" of the practitioners of these different religious paths and how their worlds have been impacted in a rapidly changing India. VERDICT More accessible but less scholarly than Wendy Doniger's The Hindus, Dalrymple's book is highly recommended for all collections. Readers will sense the power of faith underlying the divergent religious paths, with stories that are enthralling and will keep them up late reading.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL
Illuminating biographies of Indians who retain ancient devotional traditions despite rapid economic change. In a conscious reversal of the first-person method he employed in his book on Middle Eastern monks, From the Holy Mountain (1998), British journalist Dalrymple (The Last Mughal, 2006, etc.) allows these selected voices to speak for themselves-a tricky task, he writes, since the "interviews for this book took place in eight different languages." His subjects hail from diverse backgrounds. A Jainist nun lives an ascetic life in the southern pilgrimage site of Stravanabelagola. She left her family, gave away her possessions, walks everywhere so that she won't harm a living creature and now looks forward to the ultimate path toward Nirvana in sallekhana, or starving herself to death. "There is no distress or cruelty," she says calmly. "As nuns our lives are peaceful, and giving up the body should also be peaceful." A Tibetan Buddhist monk who lived through the persecution of the monasteries by the Chinese in the 1950s recounts his newfound attempt to achieve atonement for the violence he committed then in the name of preserving his faith. A prostitute in Saundatti, one of the legions of women consecrated in their youth by impoverished families to the service of the goddess Yellamma, describes her ghastly lot of entrenched illiteracy and almost-certain contraction of AIDS. An aged singer of 600-year-old epics performs his craft in Pabusar over five nights of dusk-to-dawn performances that function both as entertainment and devotional rite. A famous Sufi fakir at the Sehwan shrine in southern Pakistan dances a perilous line between Islam and Hinduism. Throughout the book, Dalrymple showcases his knowledge of the breadth of India and his fearless willingness to penetrate its sometimes unsavory nooks and crannies, rendering this a truly heartfelt work for readers craving a deeper connection to India and its rich spiritual heritage. A remarkable feat of journalism. Author tour to Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.