The stories follow three sets of Americans in the South Asian country, all of whom meet with less-than-happy ends.
"Something that stimulated me is the idea that there are so many books by Indians about India which show a different India. It shows their India. So it seems to me any American reading that would be very, very confused," remarks Theroux, a prolific traveler and author who first went to the country in the late Sixties. "I can't stop being an American. I can't look into the heart of an Indian. On the other hand, the idea of an American kind of going wrong, misunderstanding India, is something that really interests me."
Certainly the characters in "The Elephanta Suite" have gross misconceptions about their surroundings. In "Monkey Hill," a privileged married couple continues to extend its stay at a posh, lush spa, becoming intimate with the comely staff members only to find themselves brutally tossed out of paradise. A lawyer away on business in "The Gateway of India" begins leading a double life in Mumbai's red-light district. And a naive Brown graduate embarks on a solitary journey in "The Elephant God" with dire consequences.
The stories came out of a transcontinental trip Theroux took in two legs last year, beginning in London and ending in Tokyo, including a return on the Trans-Siberian Express and stops in Istanbul, Sri Lanka and, of course, India. It was actually a reprisal of a journey he took over five months in 1973 that resulted in his first travel book, "The Great Railway Bazaar." Theroux chose to revisit the same route and along the way wrote "The Elephanta Suite." (He is currently working on a larger nonfiction account of this expedition.)