Cities and Other Places
“In essays that bespeak a thoroughly cosmopolitan sensibility, Githa Hariharan not only takes us on illuminating tours through cities rich in history, but gives a voice to urban people from all over the world—Kashmir, Palestine, Delhi—trying to live with basic human dignity under circumstances of dire repression or crushing poverty.”
‘This word, home. So easy to say, so casually said every day. Why then is home so hard to see, the way you see other places you visit for a week or two?’
What does a medieval city in South India have in common with Washington D.C.? How do people in Kashmir imagine the freedom they long for? Who does Delhi, city of grand monuments and hidden slums, actually belong to?
Most of all, what makes a city, or any place, home?
In large parts of the world, including India, the prevailing view of people and places—and their multiple voices—has been a western version. How does this view change when it is located in India, and when the stories are complicated by several cultures, languages, traditions and political debates?
From Delhi, Bombay/ Mumbai, Ooty and Kashmir to Palestine, Algeria and eleventh-century Córdoba, these intricately carved essays explore cities and other places through the lives of people, and how they see home and belonging. Combining memoir with polemic, historical with imagined narrative, anecdote with poetry, Githa Hariharan recounts defining moments in which people experience the frictions of day-to-day survival, and the collision of ideas, culture, war and colonization. The result is a fascinating and layered story of home: a sense of home, too many homes, broken or lost homes.
“Hariharan’s stories should be required reading… Each essay will add depth to your understanding of the complicated, nuanced relationship between daily life and history, no matter what city or country you call home.”
Chicago Review of Books
“A fascinating book that transcends conventional genre divisions and combines several elements: of memoir, travelogue, history, philosophy and fiction. What in a journalist’s hands might just have been reportage turns in the hands of this creative writer into a well-conceived, layered narrative, a work of excellent prose… Recorded historical facts and unrecorded legends get intertwined to produce a unique text, whose texture we will never know comes from where, from the idiom that varies from the intensely lyrical to the factually objective or from a heady mixture of aptly-quoted passages of poetry and ably narrated stories or again from the dizzying passages from one period and one place to another period and another place.”
“Hariharan’s tone in Almost Home is contemplative, bringing together her personal history with her substantial knowledge of politics and culture… [offers] an illuminating and unexpected view of a familiar place, a comparison that can in turn spark a cascading line of thoughts on the way that cities and empires relate.”
“Hariharan’s anthropological curiosity, the sign of a true traveller’s mind, illuminates the tales with a colourful confetti of elements from philosophy and art to literature and history…People and places come alive in this book, not through dusty encyclopaedic research, but by Hariharan’s deft incorporation of historical fiction into the essayistic and travelogue elements of her narrative… To read this book is to venture on a rigorous journey around the globe and through pockets of time… this is the best travel book I have ever read.”
“Spunky… It is both Hariharan’s singular, home-grown cosmopolitanism and her mellow perspective as a distinguished Indian novelist that inform the book’s story, of shifting ideas of time and place… The book’s ten journeys crisscross the world confidently… [Hariharan] is capable of wonderful moments of hilarity… With this, her eighth book, she reminds us of the considerable skill she has yet to fully tap into, like the sea, ‘home, or almost home.’ ”
“…presents a new kind of travel writing that is intellectually adventurous but never detached, couched in personal experience but deeply engaged in the world, inviting the reader to make surprising connections with her own sense of home.”
“…a beautifully crafted memoir about finding one’s place in a global and ever-changing world…In ten captivating essays, Hariharan explores her life as a global citizen, defined equally by her roots as much as her current address, and what it means to find and embrace her own place in an ancient yet transient world.”
“A creative collection of essays by an Indian woman combining her perspectives of diverse places, bits of their history, and the power relations that have shaped them… Githa Hariharan is an author who is grounded in her Indian heritage yet intensely aware of what is happening around the entire globe… Almost Home is one of the increasingly frequent books that do not fit in our traditional categories. It contains fact and fiction, memoirs and travel writing, history and social/political analysis. Despite its unusual structure, it is easy to read and provides an enlarged understanding of places around the global and the forces that affect us all.”
Me, You, and Books
“Essays on identity, place, and the pervasiveness of the past in the present, by a global literary citizen…never just travel writing or political analysis—that nonetheless seems to map new territory of its own. Hariharan employs abundant creative imagination as she conjures the centuries past that have shaped the present in which she finds herself. At some times and places, she envisions fields of battle, at others there are battles between lovers. Her aim is to come to terms not only with a place, but with herself in that place, a self who has never been defined by any one place: ‘I have lived all my life in a city, but if someone asked me, quite simply, “So which city are you from?” I wouldn’t be able to answer. Or I would have too many answers…Or I could say: Anycity, composite city of visible cities, remembered cities, imagined cities.’