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Friday, May 14, 2010

Review - A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux

The blurb reads A Crime in Calcutta and this is what made me pick this book as it combined the best of what I like - travel and crime and apart from that Paul Theroux is a favourite author of mine.

Like what another review said I did not know whether this book was a story about a crime, whether it was a travelogue, whether it was a story on the philosophy of life - I am a bit confused at the end.

The story involves a travel "hack" residing in Calcutta temporarily for the purpose of getting a story. He gets involved with Mrs. Unger who is an absolute "goddess" working initially for the Missionaries of Charity and then going on her own doing innumerable good deeds mainly with abandoned, orphaned and destitute children. So far so very good. The story becomes a crime story when she contacts our hero to get his insight into a so called crime and then when he unravels the story the whole ugly story of Mrs. Unger slowly unravels.

I dont want to give the full story here as it will then be a spoiler for anyone wanting to read this book - but one thing the story definitely shows is that not everyone who comes to the third world wanting to do good, actually does it. There is a lot of ulterior motives including of course financial gain to the detriment of the community which they are supposed to be helping. Theroux brings this out very clearly in this book and he is only reiterating something that happens all over the world - we saw it very clearly post tsunami in Sri Lanka itself.

The book was interesting from that point as it was a well written, a well thought out story showing how people try to benefit from the sufferings and calamities of others, but it was not a story of a crime at all.

This book is one I picked up from the Library here in Carnegie. I am restricting myself to picking up just two books at a time from the library as otherwise I will go nuts trying to decide which one to read first when I bring it back home! Like letting a child off in a candy store.


  1. Interesting review Mystica. Sad that people would seek financial gain from the sufferings of others.
    I like your library restrictions - understandable! :) Have a great week.

  2. I agree with your comments that the book was more of a social comment tnan a full fledged mystery. I enjoyed the book as well, an interesting departure for Theroux.