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issue: 12/01/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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A New World
by Amit Chaudhuri

- reviewed by J M Frank

Chaudhuri's new novel A New World is like a high-end Rolls Royce stripped of its engine. It appears elegant and classy. It is designed with aesthetics in mind; and those aesthetics are particularly pleasing to people who think of themselves as highly educated or just high-minded. But, of course the flaw is that it goes nowhere. Nowhere at all.

Chaudhuri is the kind of author that the critics seem to love. He has won awards and fellowships. He publishes and is praised in publications such as The New Yorker and The London Review of Books. And his new novel certainly shows strength in style and subtle observation. But by the end of the book one is left wondering why the author decided to write this book in the first place.

I have never been one to rigidly demand traditional plotlines as a reader, or even a plotline at all. But a book like this one that does not offer a plotline must offer something as an alternative. This can be an explicit message, a powerful new perspective on the world or human nature, an emotional impact--something. But there is nothing here.

Chaudhuri's novel tells the story of an American economics professor and his son visiting his parents in India following a divorce. The divorce itself looms in the background of this novel as some dark presence. This could have been the something that drives the book, but it is never fully explored.

Of course, critics usually don't love books with no redeeming qualities. Chaudhuri does have some strengths. The prose is flawless. The novel's greatest strength is quite a bit of fresh insight into the intricacies of human behavior, both from the West and from Indian. But even these insights involve trivial subtleties of behavior rather than anything important or with a powerful impact.

Unless your purpose is to sit in your driveway in your engineless Rolls and let the neighbors see how classy you are, take my advice; spend the money on something functional.

J M Frank welcomes your comments on this review.


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