I am a sucker for stories of expat academics in India, because for a time, that was my life too. I was even more drawn to Maya by C.W. Huntington because it is largely set in Banaras (or Varanasi, depending on where you sit on that divide), where i did my research. But i do not know how broad the appeal of Maya will be to those who live outside this rarefied crowd.
Maya is quite clearly a roman a clef. It is very clearly based on Huntington’s experiences in India in the 1970s and that is what I loved about it. From stopping in at the Fulbright offices in Delhi to heading to the hills to beat the summer heat, these are all things that reminded me so clearly of my life in India. It was startling to see how much had remained the same in a period spanning over 20 years (he ate at the Sindhi too!). This was no where more true than in Huntington’s descriptions of Banaras.
I was a tad disappointed about the lack of description or engagement with the political situation in India at the time. It was The Emergency, after all. But at times expats are known to live in their own little apolitical bubble.
Who would like this book? As a Sanskritist, I loved Huntington’s allusions to the concepts of maya and lila, but this will be largely lost on most people I suspect, but it will still be of interest to those drawn to Indian and Buddhist philosophies. Huntington’s book also falls in line with other novels by scholars of India, namely The Ascetic of Desire by Sudhir Kakar and Love in a Dead Language by Lee Segal.