This touching and funny collection of stories showcases Tharoor’s daunting literary acumen, as well as the keen sensitivity that informs his ability to write profoundly and entertainingly on themes ranging from family conflict to death. In the title story—written in a lonely hotel room in Geneva soon after the author began his work with the United Nations—a young Indian orphan is on his way to visit America for the first time, and his anguish and longing in the airplane seem hardly different from those of any American child.
Tharoor’s admiration for P. G. Wodehouse makes “How Bobby Chatterjee Turned to Drink” a delightful homage, while “The Temple Thief,” “The Simple Man,” and “The Political Murder” bring to mind O. Henry and Maupassant. His three college stories, “Friends,” “The Pyre,” and “The Professor’s Daughter,” are full of youthful high jinks, naïve infatuations, and ingenious wordplay. “The Solitude of the Short-Story Writer” is a smart, self-aware, Woody Allen-esque exploration of a writer’s conflicted relationship with his psychiatrist.
Although Tharoor wrote most of these 15 precocious tales in his teens and early 20s, they display the gift for sparkling social satire and sharp observation of life in India that he brought to The Great Indian Novel and Show Business. Several of them are perfect. Whether depicting a self-important police inspector who bungles a homicide investigation (``The Political Murder''), an orphan who feels manipulated by a child relief agency (``The Five-Dollar Smile''), or a college student who survives a scooter crash in which his friend dies (``The Pyre''), Tharoor has a fine eye for caste and class consciousness. He mocks India's ``mod sophisticates,'' ad executives and bureaucrats. Irreverent tales of college life mingle with intense family dramas: a 17-year-old carries on a brief, torrid affair with his married ``Auntie Rita'' and ``The Professor's Daughter'' is brutally beaten by her old father because of her presumed flirtations. Tharoor, who now lives in New York, sets his funniest tale in the U.S. Fittingly, ``The Solitude of the Short Story Writer'' shows the protagonist scandalizing his friends by writing acerbic, revelatory stories about them.