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City of Dreadful Night: A Tale of Horror and the Macabre in India

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When Lee Siegel went to India to do research for a book on Sanskrit horror literature, a friend in New Delhi told him about an itinerant teller of ghost and vampire tales, a man with clusters of amulets around his neck and a silk top hat with peacock plumes on his head. Siegel set out in search of the old man—called Brahm Kathuwala—to hear his stories and to learn about hi When Lee Siegel went to India to do research for a book on Sanskrit horror literature, a friend in New Delhi told him about an itinerant teller of ghost and vampire tales, a man with clusters of amulets around his neck and a silk top hat with peacock plumes on his head. Siegel set out in search of the old man—called Brahm Kathuwala—to hear his stories and to learn about his uncommon life. But what started out as a study of other people's stories became a compelling story itself. City of Dreadful Night is an astonishing work of fiction, a tangle of tales that transports the reader from the Medieval India of magicians, witches, and vampires, through the British India of Brahm Kathuwala's childhood, into the chaos and political terror of contemporary India. Vividly recreating Indian literary and oral traditions, Siegel weaves a web of possession, reincarnation, and magical transformation unlike any found in the Western tradition. Flesh-eating demons, Rajiv Gandhi's assassin, even Bram Stoker and Dracula populate the serpentine narrative, which intermingles stories about the characters with the terrifying tales they tell. Siegel pursues Brahm Kathuwala from the ghastly lights of the cremation ground at Banaras through villages all over north India. Brahm's life story is revealed through countless tales along the way. We learn that he was raised, and abandoned, by two mothers—one the destitute floor sweeper who bore him; the other her employer, a wealthy Irish woman who read and reread to him the story of Dracula. We hear of his marriage to the daughter of a cremation ground attendant, his battles against her demonic possession, and their painful parting. We come to understand the daily life and motivations of this "horror professional," who uses terrifying tales to ward off the evil he himself fears. This unorthodox book is more than a story; it blends scholarship, fantasy, travelogue, and autobiography—fusing and overlapping historical accounts and newscasts, literary texts and films, dreams and nocturnal tales. Siegel uses imagination to explore the relation of real terror to horror fiction and to contemplate the ways fear and disgust become thrilling elements in stories of the macabre. This book is the product of Siegel's deep knowledge of both Indian and Western literary and philosophical traditions. It is also an attempt to come to grips with the omnipresence of political and religious terror in contemporary India. Shocking, original, beautifully written, City of Dreadful Night offers readers a captivating immersion in the wonder and terror of India, past and present.


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When Lee Siegel went to India to do research for a book on Sanskrit horror literature, a friend in New Delhi told him about an itinerant teller of ghost and vampire tales, a man with clusters of amulets around his neck and a silk top hat with peacock plumes on his head. Siegel set out in search of the old man—called Brahm Kathuwala—to hear his stories and to learn about hi When Lee Siegel went to India to do research for a book on Sanskrit horror literature, a friend in New Delhi told him about an itinerant teller of ghost and vampire tales, a man with clusters of amulets around his neck and a silk top hat with peacock plumes on his head. Siegel set out in search of the old man—called Brahm Kathuwala—to hear his stories and to learn about his uncommon life. But what started out as a study of other people's stories became a compelling story itself. City of Dreadful Night is an astonishing work of fiction, a tangle of tales that transports the reader from the Medieval India of magicians, witches, and vampires, through the British India of Brahm Kathuwala's childhood, into the chaos and political terror of contemporary India. Vividly recreating Indian literary and oral traditions, Siegel weaves a web of possession, reincarnation, and magical transformation unlike any found in the Western tradition. Flesh-eating demons, Rajiv Gandhi's assassin, even Bram Stoker and Dracula populate the serpentine narrative, which intermingles stories about the characters with the terrifying tales they tell. Siegel pursues Brahm Kathuwala from the ghastly lights of the cremation ground at Banaras through villages all over north India. Brahm's life story is revealed through countless tales along the way. We learn that he was raised, and abandoned, by two mothers—one the destitute floor sweeper who bore him; the other her employer, a wealthy Irish woman who read and reread to him the story of Dracula. We hear of his marriage to the daughter of a cremation ground attendant, his battles against her demonic possession, and their painful parting. We come to understand the daily life and motivations of this "horror professional," who uses terrifying tales to ward off the evil he himself fears. This unorthodox book is more than a story; it blends scholarship, fantasy, travelogue, and autobiography—fusing and overlapping historical accounts and newscasts, literary texts and films, dreams and nocturnal tales. Siegel uses imagination to explore the relation of real terror to horror fiction and to contemplate the ways fear and disgust become thrilling elements in stories of the macabre. This book is the product of Siegel's deep knowledge of both Indian and Western literary and philosophical traditions. It is also an attempt to come to grips with the omnipresence of political and religious terror in contemporary India. Shocking, original, beautifully written, City of Dreadful Night offers readers a captivating immersion in the wonder and terror of India, past and present.

30 review for City of Dreadful Night: A Tale of Horror and the Macabre in India

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    An American scholar arrives in India with plans to study the treatment of fear and disgust in Sanskrit literature. A young boy listens in rapt attention as an Irish woman reads to him the tale of Dracula. A wandering storyteller captivates a crowd with stories of rakshashas, prets, bhuts, vetals, ghouls, kapalikas, aghoris--and the brave heros who confront them. A promising politician finds his career and life cut short by a young woman. Lee Siegel weaves all of these threads together into an oft An American scholar arrives in India with plans to study the treatment of fear and disgust in Sanskrit literature. A young boy listens in rapt attention as an Irish woman reads to him the tale of Dracula. A wandering storyteller captivates a crowd with stories of rakshashas, prets, bhuts, vetals, ghouls, kapalikas, aghoris--and the brave heros who confront them. A promising politician finds his career and life cut short by a young woman. Lee Siegel weaves all of these threads together into an often captivating, often moving story about horror stories and what they mean to us. The book was a lot of fun, though perhaps a little less frightening than I had hoped it would be.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eliza Young

    Very dark read. Interesting if you like horror and Indian culture. Sucks you in…

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Pajon

    very interesting read. dark and haunting but there is a touch of reality horror which is a little upsetting. (i.e. suicide bombings)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Derek Gabriel

  5. 4 out of 5

    trickgnosis

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mntwmyn

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kezza

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  9. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Sanders

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joe Rodrigue

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jackson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Ferreira-Jardim

  13. 5 out of 5

    J. Max

  14. 5 out of 5

    Will Errickson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sezín Koehler

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mahmud

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gunnar

  22. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Art

  23. 5 out of 5

    Southernbelletat

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pickels

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nate

  26. 5 out of 5

    donovan dodrill

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jadaka

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Mount

  29. 4 out of 5

    Avinesh Shankar

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pēteris Cedriņš

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