Friday, July 28, 2006

What I wrote about William Dalrymple for the Bali Advertiser:

Imagine this. Pursuing a career abroad, an Englishman comes to an Asian kingdom and is changed forever. The lifestyle, the warm weather, the color, the food, the unexpected delights win him over. He falls in love with a dark-tressed woman of graceful beauty. He changes his religion. He dresses like a native and adopts their manners and customs. He swears he’ll never go back.

Sounds like someone you know?

Not just another expat saga, it’s also the framework of a fascinating, true story of love, betrayal, and intrigue in colonial India: White Mughals by William Dalrymple, one of the writers par excellence who will grace Ubud at festival time.

Dalrymple first earned international accolades at the age of 22 with his richly evocative In Xanadu. His City of Jinns won him the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and he wrote and presented two documentary series for the BBC, Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys.

The writer’s meticulous research and passionate feelings for India meld perfectly to bring readers into realms hitherto buried and forgotten. For White Mughals, Dalrymple drew from collections of correspondence (some in cypher) and massive piles of colonial records to synthesize history into a well-paced and nicely illustrated narrative novel. Set in a seductive world of mango orchards, carrot halwa, medicinal opium, remote forts, and boy servants, the intrigue and adversities of 18th century colonial India come alive in the hands of the reader.

White Mughals satisfies the interest of anyone who seeks to learn something of the era of Colonial Residents, cantonments, and Anglo-Indian gentleman poets. The level of detail in Dalrymple’s writing never mires the pace and flow of the book. Even his footnotes are fascinating and quite colorful, whether it is a two hundred year old description of mosquitos torturing the legs of guests under a dinner table, or accurate definitions of erotic yakshis and apsaras.

William Dalrymple will bring to the festival his rich knowledge of India’s past and present. His concentration on the country’s history and culture will nicely augment the words and views of our many invited writers from the subcontinent. Look for lively discussions, colorful readings, and the kind of magical serendipity for which the Ubud Writers Festival is becoming known.

Dalrymple enjoys his travels in India with a passion, lauding a street cook (whose simmering biryani is purportedly the best in Hydrabad) alongside his publishers’ names in the book’s acknowledgements. (Note to Festival Founder, gourmet restaurateur Janet deNeefe: so that’s why you love this chap)!

Also by William Dalrymple: From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium and The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters.

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