On the Ganges: Encounters with Saints and Sinners on India’s Mythic River

George Black. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-05735-8
Hoping to write a book like the ones “early English travelers packed in their portmanteaus,” Black (Empire of Shadows) launched himself on a 1,500-mile trip down the river of legend whose “magnetic field” draws “devotees of the sacred and the profane.” Central to Hinduism, Black explains, the Ganges is often referred to as the river goddess, Ma Ganga, but everywhere he travels he sees that the river is threatened by pollution and overuse. In the mountains where the Ganges starts as “a thin stream of gray, silt-laden water,” he meets stoned and evasive gurus and explores the ruined ashram once owned by the Beatles’ beloved Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Further downstream in the “heat, dust, and unending flatness” of the teeming plains, Black examines the ruins of the British Raj, learns of the mythology behind cremation, and studies Hindu-Muslim tensions. Toward the end of his journey, Black pushes into the delta, where the Ganges pours through the desperate poverty of overpopulated Bangladesh where “life... was a crude Darwinian contest.” Black’s wry, humanistic narrative depicts a people riding on the knife’s edge of catastrophe, but still holding out for hope. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/21/2018
Release date: 07/17/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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