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A Matter of Rats


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction. The Place of Place xi
1. The Rat's Guide 1
2. Pataliputra 15
3. Patna in the Hole 29
4. Leftover Patna 45
5. Other Patnas 63
6. Emperor of This World 73
7. Emotional Atyachaar 85
Epilogue. Place of Birth/Place of Death 103
Notes 109
Index 113

About the Author

Amitava Kumar is a novelist, poet, journalist, filmmaker, and Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College. He is the author of A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb and Nobody Does the Right Thing: A Novel, both also published by Duke University Press; Husband of a Fanatic: A Personal Journey through India, Pakistan, Love, and Hate, a New York Times "Editors' Choice" selection; Bombay-London-New York, a New Statesman (UK) "Book of the Year" selection; and Passport Photos. He is the editor of several books, including Away: The Indian Writer as an Expatriate, The Humour and the Pity: Essays on V. S. Naipaul, and World Bank Literature. He is also the screenwriter and narrator of the prize-winning documentary film Pure Chutney. Kumar's writing has appeared in The Nation, Harper's Magazine, Vanity Fair, The American Prospect, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Hindu, and other publications in North America and India.


"A Matter of Rats is disconcerting, sophisticated, and recklessly courageous. The stories gathered here bring Patna to life, and accrete to an almost unbearable intensity." - Teju Cole, author of Open City "Pound for pound, Amitava Kumar is one of the best nonfiction writers of his generation... No one in India writes a more fine-grained and quietly evocative prose... In his marvelous new work A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna, Kumar puts a stethoscope to his hometown and takes a reading of its heart." - Siddharth Chowdhury, Time Out Delhi "When seen through the eyes of Kumar, the city is unique and common, familiar and strange, once glorious but now dying and decaying. The reader sees little glimpses of the city's people, places, history, literature, and gossip, as Kumar travels, talks, and remembers... This new look at an ancient city transports readers on a fun journey. Lovers of travel writing, Indian history, and fans of literature will greatly enjoy this short book and wonder why Kumar did not write a slightly longer biography of Patna." - Library Journal "It's an insider's view from outside: The author is both native son and expatriate, revisiting his former home with an eye for the telling detail. A foreign journalist might note the city's vast rat population; an intrepid one might follow a Musahar construction worker into a muddy field to catch rats for dinner ("It is better than chicken," the man asserts). But only a native of Patna could add that nurses at the hospital where his sister works play the radio at night to keep rats from nibbling their toes, or that rats had carried off his mother's dentures." - Chronogram "E. B. White composed Here Is New York, his fraught love letter to Manhattan, during a heat wave in the summer of 1948. Sixty-four years later, the book served as a 'secret talisman' for Amitava Kumar, who carried it with him into the heat and humidity of his hometown, Patna, in India, as he wrote A Matter of Rats, an equally clear-eyed ode to a similarly implausible place." - New York Times " intimate and whimsical book, but one that truly shines when the author turns his gaze to the ordinary people who still live in Patna." - New York Times

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