Reviewed by Poppy Johnson

Years ago, travel to India would have been considered difficult or an extreme itinerary to pursue. Today, everyone from students to causal travelers can easily visit India to experience the culture, the food and the warmth of the people indigenous to the region.

Of course, historically, Americans exposed to Indian culture have been limited to misrepresentative accounts of the culture and of that country. The book Planes, Trains and Auto-Rickshaws works to dispel any myths a person may still hold regarding India. The book is a journal of the author’s trip to India and her impressions of the people and culture she experienced on that journey. It reads at first like a comprehensive travel diary, which I found quote enjoyable. Unfortunately, it quickly turned into an historical account of India’s independence, past political struggles of its people and religious sect quirks; it covered historical information that I would have rather looked up myself online.

Historical perspective aside, what I did like about the book was that the author in one section clarified many misconceptions and stereotypes that some people may hold about India. She does a very good job of separating Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism. This will be especially beneficial for anyone unfamiliar with Indian culture, but who wants to learn more (but doesn’t know where to start).

I also liked the explanation of the different languages in India. I knew that there were various languages spoken in India, but I was unaware of the broad diversity of languages and the confusion it can cause for natives (and foreigners) alike.

The author denounces the caste system in India, but also compares it to the selectiveness made by country clubs, private clubs or college sororities or fraternities. This is not a fair comparison in my view, since clubs, fraternities and so on can decide on their membership, whereas people are born into a specific caste.  From here she launches right into a discussion of lynching, and discrimination and the KKK (what? why this, why here?). She then follows with a statement that bashes America by saying it is not number one in all it does, but prefers to believe some poll which notes America is number eleven in a world order of best counties. Whew, I’m exhausted! This is an example of an author forcing a political statement onto unsuspecting readers, or possibly an author allowing her political opinion regarding the United States to taint the subject of her book. Either way, I was perplexed as to why this avenue of dialogue was put into what I had thought would be light reading on the topic of India and its culture.

If you pick up this book looking for a light read or a travel diary in preparation for a possible or potential trip to India to experience its beautiful culture for yourself – find another book. If you want to read one person’s politically-based opinion of the state of discrimination in the U.S. and the constitutionality of choice in America, interspersed with the history of India’s government, religions or landmarks, then this is the book for you.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Authors on the Web. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.