Kirkus Associates

A collection of early stories -- most written when the Indian-born Tharoor (Show Business, etc.) was in his late teens and early 20s -- that are more a foretaste of the good things to come than accomplishments in themselves. With the exception of The Solitude of the Short-story Writer, the pieces here are set in India, where cosmopolitan city-dwellers may have a lingering sentimental affection for the countryside they long ago left but are seduced by an increasingly Western culture. Two stories -- The Village Girl and City Girl -- are updated versions of the old children's tale of "The Country Mouse and the Town Mouse": a sophisticated male student (in the first story) and a sophisticated young woman (in the second), both reluctantly visiting their respective family's old country homes, are taught some surprising -- and profound -- lessons by the countryfolk they thoughtlessly seduce. The most mature piece here is that of the title, in which a lonely orphan--the "poster-child" of an organization raising money for the institution -- is determined to visit the family in America that have "adopted" him and writes deliberately touching letters to them. The letters result in a ticket for a three-week visit, but on the flight, surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar objects, the boy suddenly experiences an intense loneliness: "he was alone, lost somewhere between a crumpled magazine clipping and the glossy brightness of a color photograph." Other notables are: The Boutique (a son witnesses the humiliation of his mother by a group of urban sophisticates); Auntie Rita (a young man's affair with his aunt in the city "becomes a ticket back home, but not just to the life he had known at home, new worlds beckoned"); and the bittersweet The Death of a Schoolmaster (a politically ambitious son causes inadvertent harm). 

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