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Swami and Friends [Paperback]

R. K. Narayan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1994 Phoenix Fiction
"There are writers--Tolstoy and Henry James to name two--whom we hold in awe, writers--Turgenev and Chekhov--for whom we feel a personal affection, other writers whom we respect--Conrad for example--but who hold us at a long arm's length with their 'courtly foreign grace.' Narayan (whom I don't hesitate to name in such a context) more than any of them wakes in me a spring of gratitude, for he has offered me a second home. Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian."--Graham Greene

Offering rare insight into the complexities of Indian middle-class society, R. K. Narayan traces life in the fictional town of Malgudi. The Dark Room is a searching look at a difficult marriage and a woman who eventually rebels against the demands of being a good and obedient wife. In Mr. Sampath, a newspaper man tries to keep his paper afloat in the face of social and economic changes sweeping India. Narayan writes of youth and young adulthood in the semiautobiographical Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts. Although the ordinary tensions of maturing are heightened by the particular circumstances of pre-partition India, Narayan provides a universal vision of childhood, early love and grief.

"The experience of reading one of his novels is . . . comparable to one's first reaction to the great Russian novels: the fresh realization of the common humanity of all peoples, underlain by a simultaneous sense of strangeness--like one's own reflection seen in a green twilight."--Margaret Parton, New York Herald Tribune

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About the Author

R. K. Narayan (1906–2001) was one of the most prominent Indian novelists of the twentieth century. Most of his stories are set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi, a place that Narayan populated with numerous characters. He was the recipient of many awards for his work including the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy, India's highest literary honor. In 1980 he was awarded the AC Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature, of which he was an honorary member and in 1982 he was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Charming, but faulty June 16 2001
This is a charming book, depicting 1930s India as seen through the eyes of the schoolboy Swami. All the trials and tribulations of children's daily lives are there: strained relationships with adults (including of course teachers), and falling in and out of friendships with other children. Nothing remarkable or original in this subject matter, but of course there's the British Raj to add to life's complications: the strangeness of having Bible lessons in Indian schools, increasing political tensions and violence, and last but not least, cricket.
American readers who are not familiar with cricket have nothing to fear about the frequent references to it in the book - it's sufficient to know that cricket is a sport which was (and is) hugely popular in India - an added irony as its was adopted after the British brought it with them. However, it may help to know that Swami's nickname of "Tate" is after the famous England international cricketer, Maurice Tate (1895-1956), who was particularly famous in the 1920s and 1930s.
The book is generally well-written, but I found problems with the author's style. Swami's views of the world and the way he expresses himself are not consistently convincing - at times it reads more like the auther stating his own mature views rather than those that would be expressed by a ten year old boy. And, churlish though it may be, I couln't help a small laugh at a line like:
"The teacher came in and stood aghast. He could do little more than look on and ejaculate."
Though this probably says more about the state of my mind and sense of humor than about Narayan's writing.
"Swami and Friends" has a great deal of appeal, but many faults too. However, one must take into account that it was a first novel, and it certainly hasn't put me off reading more of Narayan.
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By A Customer
Shaw said that people laughed hardest when he told the simple truth. This book might have been written to illustrate the profundity of that remark, as tiny Swaminathan, so profoundly imagined that we leave the book understanding (and loving) him, enables us to feel a deep tenderness not only for him but for all children (including ourselves). Swami loves (and hustles) his mamaji, loves (and trembles, needlessly, before) his father, loves (and stoutly patronizes and instructs) his Granny, generally conducting his life in school and among his friends with an endearing combination of courage, ablomp, cheek, incomprehension, and vulnerability. Narayan is the writer that Graham Greene admires most in the English language; Swami and Friends is a goodish argument why. The book illustrates how Narayan has come to command the respect of writers and the love of readers throughout the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Children's book for the elders Aug. 31 2000
An excellant presentation of child hood. The fictional autobiography of swamy, the little lovable mischievous boy from a small south indian villege is a true depiction of every Indian boy of his times. I was born after more than 30 years since it was written still my child hood has resemblences in lot of places whether it be trying to escape from teachers in last benches or playing cricket or loosing friends like rajam. Presented in a lucid and lyrical fashion, this book can be finished nonstop. This is a book of children for the elders. Not many great works of this kind could be referred by me so far. Tomswayer of Mark Twain in English, Seryosha of Vera Panova in Russian and Budugu of Mullapudi Venkata Ramana in Telugu(a shouth indian language) are few of similar brilliant works I read so far.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Indian equivalent of Tom Sawyer, only better Nov. 8 1999
By A Customer
This fictionalized autobiography of a young Indian boy and his world is so charming and amusing that I have read it several times. I strongly recommend it to everyone, especially to those who believe that the only good books are written by Americans and Europeans. Most of all, the author is quintessentially human and not afraid to show us himself as a mischievous child with all his warts. As such he is more lovable than a more perfect hero. At places in this book you will laugh until the tears roll down your face. DON'T, repeat, DON'T miss it! Words cannot express how marvelous this story is. In addition, it has universal appeal to both children and adults, though on different levels.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Swami and Friends May 16 2001
By A Customer
This Great book form R K Narayan made me remember my childhood and school days and those innocent years. Especially Swami's Grand mother, his friend Rajam and mani's characters touched the heart. This book has got lot of practical humor. Definately this book will keep you at a lighter mood and will make you to remember the stories for ever. Any guy born and brought up in India can find paralles between him and Swamy.
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