William Dalrymple, Tina Brown and ‘Return of a King’ – A Toast!
The great thing about New York City is that you never know whom you’re going to meet and where. It’s like pulling a slot machine lever every morning and watching a waterfall of casino coins tumble out – or not! So if you had told me that before the week was midway through I’d be sipping wine at Tina Brown’s fabulous apartment and hobnobbing with celebrated author William Dalrymple and a bunch of celebrities, I would have been skeptical. But that’s the way the week turned out. Only in New York City…
William Dalrymple and his wife, the noted artist Olivia Fraser, were in New York for the launch of his latest book ‘Return of a King’ and invited me to the celebrations at the home of Tina Brown, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and you can hardly talk about magazines without mentioning her name.
The gregarious Dalrymple, clad in a beige galaband jacket over a shirt, was probably the most Indian person around, given his great knowledge of the Indian sub-continent and its art and culture. A historian and curator who has lived partly in India since 1989, he is also one of the co-founders of the much loved Jaipur Literary Festival.
This British author has written seven award-winning books including City of Djinns, White Mughals and The Last Mughal, and his latest is ‘Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42’. It’s a finely etched history, a march back into the past but it holds tremendous lessons for our present and the future. It shows how history repeats itself unless we are vigilant.
As Dalrymple wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times: “The same tribal rivalries exist and the same battles are being fought in the same places under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers.”
Return of a King has already been published in India and the UK, and is now being launched in New York. Calling it a brilliant book, Brown praised the astonishing details, the sense of humor and the amazing characters. She said: “By far the most colorful character is Willie himself. He is like one of those great Victorian characters, the way he portrays his cast of prostitutes and mystics and it’s incredible – the world be comes up with in his brilliant narratives of India.”
Brown first met him at the Jaipur Literary Festival which she calls the Woodstock of the literary world: “It is indeed like that – it’s a wonderful upside down world where writers suddenly find themselves mobbed as if they are U2!”
To which Dalrymple replied with a happy smile: “Well, this should be!”
Brown praised India where reading and books are such a passion. “India is such a vivid literary, journalistic culture and I just love it – maybe because I see it from the eyes of Willie. He has made me feel this way about India.”
She added: “Of course, one of the great talents residing there is Willie and I’d like to thank him for doing such a brilliant book and giving us another enormously pleasurable, enlightening, original read. I love all of Willie’s friends and I like seeing him in his literary constellation.”
Indeed, Dalrymple, who seems to attract friends and fans by the truckload, was surrounded by well-wishers. Guests included Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff, UN diplomat Andrew Gilmour, Tunku Varadrajan and Lucas Wittman from The Daily Beast, writers Amitava Kumar, Reza Aslan; designer Amisha Patel, Salma Merchant Rahmathulla of the Pelicans Group and Adil Rahmathulla of ISquared Capital, writer Tracey Jackson and Aroon Shivdasani, director of Indo-American Arts Council. There were many, many more.
It was a happy convivial evening.
I carried home my hefty signed copy of Return of a King in the crook of my arm like a baby. For an ex-history honors student like me, it will make for pleasurable reading.
For those who’d like to hear a fascinating talk by Dalrymple and get the book, there are several opportunities.
Dalrymple will read from and discuss Return of a King at Asia Society New York on Monday, April 22 (in a program that will also be live webcast on AsiaSociety.org/Live at 6:30 pm ET) and Asia Society Northern California on Wednesday, May 1.
The book tour takes him to several US cities.
William Dalrymple Talks about ‘Return of a King’