The Book of Love: In search of the Kamasutra, By James McConnachie

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It was intended to revive and commemorate an ancient tradition; it might well have been intended as a parody; above all, it was written for a particular class of layabout. What it was never meant to be was pornography.

The Kamasutra has been many things to many interests. When Richard Burton, explorer and erotologist, found it (he was not, by the way, its translator), he saw in its civilised espousal of sex as an art an antidote to the prudery of his own time. Western orientalists since have seen in it a proto-homophilia. Modern India itself does not quite seem to have made up its mind.

The nagaraka, the fop for whom the Kamasutra was intended, seems almost quaint now: teaching a mynah bird how to talk would not now strike us as the height of decadence. James McConnachie himself seems ambivalent about the book's significance. How else could it be? As he points out, "As a text, the Kamasutra is no more than the glorious ruin of an ancient pleasure palace, a site to be marvelled at but no longer occupied".

Atlantic £8.99

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