Critical Overview

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Critics have responded positively to A River Sutra. A reviewer in Publisher's Weekly described how "this novel of India beautifully embodies the art and craft of storytelling as Mehta portrays diverse lives touched by the river Narmada, a holy pilgrimage site 'worshipped as the daughter of the god Shiva.’" The same reviewer praises Mehta for "not avoid[ing] the controversies of life in her homeland, including the caste system and political/religious rivalries," noting that "she willingly exposes its complexities." Rahul Jacob of the Los Angeles Times applauded how "every yarn begins the lazy circle again, another variation on the novel's central themes. Each story ends with a beguiling turn into the next one. The simplicity of Mehta's writing nicely complements the novel's profound concerns."

Reviewers of A River Sutra especially appreciate the form of the novel and how it ties into ancient storytelling traditions. The reviewer at the Denver Post, for one, likened Mehta to "Scheherazade," and the book to Arabian Nights. The tempo of the book, however, seems in sharp contrast to Mehta's other works. Her first book, Karma Cola (1979), humorously examined the misconceptions Americans hold about Indian culture, and the naivety with which Indians exalt American capitalism. Mehta's historical novel, Raj (1989), also looked at India in relation to Western culture. In it, Mehta explored the effect that British imperialism had on Indian nationalism. Her latest work, Snakes and Ladders: Glimpses of Modern India, a collection of essays, returns to the themes of her earlier works. In this 1997 work of nonfiction, Mehta once again examines the collision of cultures in India. She concentrates especially on the clash between the burgeoning technological industries in India and the ancient religious traditions. A River Sutra, by contrast, is a much more internal novel, as Mehta explores both the rich traditions of India and the mysteries of the human heart. The novel was such a departure that Mehta did not think it was appropriate for her original publisher, Simon and Schuster. As Mehta said in an interview with Wendy Smith, of Publishers Weekly, "I wrote A River Sutra privately; I didn't tell anyone I was doing it, and I genuinely didn't think it would get published outside of India. It astonishes me that that's the one people have responded to most."

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Essays and Criticism