BOOK REVIEW / In brief: A River Sutra - Gita Mehta: Heinemann, pounds 9.99

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The Independent Culture
Wonderfully, spiritually erotic, these stories told to a bureaucrat in retreat from the world on the banks of the holy Narmada river are alive with the rich variety of India's people as well as her mythology. A young man is driven mad by the love-goddess; a child saved from prostitution by a martial ascetic becomes a famous temple-singer; an ugly woman learns how to make music with a betrothed who abandons her. What makes the stories so satisfying is that there are no neat endings. The bureaucrat's difficult process of enlightenment and his dry narrative voice are the perfect foil to their lyric mode, and the description of Indian music is an education in pleasure. Superb, profound, apparently effortless storytelling.