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the Complete Review
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Love in a Dead Language

Lee Siegel

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To purchase Love in a Dead Language

Title: Love in a Dead Language
Author: Lee Siegel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 408 pages
Availability: Love in a Dead Language - US
Love in a Dead Language - UK
Love in a Dead Language - Canada
L'Amour dans une langue morte - France

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Our Assessment:

C : an occasionally interesting experiment that is too playful and too convoluted.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Far Eastern Econ. Rev. A+ 17/2/2000 Shashi Tharoor
The Hindustan Times A+ 10/7/1999 Khushwant Singh
India Times A+ 7/8/2000 Brinda Bose
The NY Times A 8/9/1999 Richard Bernstein
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 23/5/1999 Tom LeClair
Salon A 7/6/1999 Carol Lloyd
The Times D 17/6/1999 Marianne Wiggins

  Review Consensus:

  The majority think it a delightful linguistic and academic game, hilariously and cleverly done; only Ms. Wiggins begs to differ.
  (Note that the complete review disagrees emphatically with the majority, begging right along with Ms. Wiggins).

  From the Reviews:
  • "The publishers of this masterwork deserve a prize for their creative collaboration in Siegel's methodical madness. If his ingenuity is limitless, so is the author's felicity with language." - Shashi Tharoor, Far Eastern Economic Review

  • "It is a great book. I canít recall when last I read one so hard to put down. It is bawdy, irreverent and extremely witty. Siegel does not spare anyone." - Khushwant Singh, The Hindustan Times

  • "Love in a Dead Language is a celebration of kama and a travesty of it; a love affair with India and a spoof on it; an affectionate expose of reality-challenged American academia and a wildly-comic farce inspired by it. It is witty and sophisticated and devastatingly satirical; and if at every odd moment the sex in it seems overwhelming, that's clearly intended too." - Brinda Bose, India Today

  • "Love in a Dead Language [is] a major laughing matter and deserves space on the short, high shelf of literary wonders." - Tom LeClair, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Whether it is post-modern or not, Love in a Dead Language is pulled off with such unhinged élan by Mr. Siegel that it is also plain good fun, a clever, literate satire in which almost everything is both travestied and, strangely, loved by its author." - Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

  • "Love in a Dead Language triumphs in so many areas -- poetic, intellectual, comic, erotic -- that it hardly matters that Siegel bends the integrity of his characters in order to pursue his peculiar vision." - Carol Lloyd, Salon

  • "This is a campus novel and, as such, never erupts from its self-congratulatory camp. (...) a programmed wank performed for friends in front of mirrors." - Marianne Wiggins, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lee Siegel's multilayered romance is: a translation of the Kamasutra, a commentary on that classical text, a murder mystery, a love story. It is, primarily, a big mess. Lee Roth, professor of Indology and translator of the Kamasutra, falls in love with one of his students, Lalita (oy veh, indeed). He gets killed, eventually (not soon enough). This text -- Love in a Dead Language -- is presented as an annotated edition of his Kamasutra, which doubles as a journal of sorts, and also comes with the annotations of Roth's literary executor and student, Anang Saighal. It recounts, basically, Roth's affair with Lalita and the consequent end of his academic career.
       This overclever academic thriller naturally also features a Professor Lee Siegel. It also includes a bibliography consisting half of invented works and half of real ones. There are far too many nods to master Nabokov, including lots to the Zemblan language. There are multimedia concepts, newspaper articles, and even a whole section printed upside down. Of everything there is too much.
       Siegel redeems himself to some extent by writing that is generally very solid, often clever, and sometimes funny. However, he gets too carried away and so the good is lost with the bad. A professor of Indian religions himself Siegel gets the Indian stuff down decently, but to little purpose and end.
       Parts of the book are fun, but the story itself is particularly empty and pointless, at least as presented in this manner, and the reader wants to go conk all the cartoonish characters on the head with the oversize dictionary that is the murder weapon.
       It is a neat looking text, and it seems like it might be an enjoyable puzzle. Regrettably, it is not. A disappointment and a curiosity, it is nothing more.

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Love in a Dead Language: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Lee Siegel is professor of Indian religions at the University of Hawaii.

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© 1999-2021 the complete review

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