Love and Longing in Bombay

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Winner of the Eurasia Region Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book

Included in the
“Notable Books of 1997” by The New York Times Book Review;
“Books of the Year” by The Independent (London);
“Best Books of the Year” by the Guardian (London)
“The Best of 1997: Critics’ Choice,” by Outlook magazine (New Delhi)

Vikram Chandra’s second book, a collection of short stories. In a waterfront bar in Bombay, an enigmatic civil servant tells stories to a group of friends. In “Dharma,” an old soldier returns home to find that his house is haunted by the spirit of a small child; in “Shakti,” two great ladies engage in ruthless drawing-room warfare; in “Kama,” a policeman investigating a murder journeys into the mysteries of his own heart…

Chandra Pips Arundhati to Commonwealth Prize

The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay has won the Best Book award of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Eurasia region this year. His work, comprising five short stories set in Mumbai, has beaten The God of Small Things, the Booker Prize-winning novel by Arundhati Roy, which was judged runner up in the same category. The regional prize is a forerunner for the 10,000 pound-Commonwealth Writers Prize, 1998, to be given away in Jamaica next month…

What gave Chandra’s book an edge over the others, most importantly Arundhati Roy’s, the book that seems to have set new standards for writing in India? Could it have been that Arundhati Roy and her book has had more than their fair share of acclaim?

Malashri Lal of the Department of English, Delhi University, and the chairperson for this year’s regional panel sharply denies any such suggestion. “Love and Longing and The God of Small Things are two different books with distinct flavours of their own,” she said. It was after a great deal of discussion that the panel—Stephen Moss, Literary Editor of The Guardian and Walter Parera, University of Peradeniya (Sri Lanka), besides Ms. Lal—decided on the winner and the runner-up.

What, according to the panel, went in favour of Chandra was that his stories are “completely unforced—there is no straining for effect. Lyrical and humane, this book plots a fresh path in Indian writing.” The five interlocking tales deal with life and death, love and grief, envy and corruption “It is so local, yet so global,” says Ms. Lal… — Mohua Chatterjee and Sanghamitra Chakraborty, The Times of India.

When Midnight’s Children first appeared on the scene, it became necessary to reevaluate stories from and about India. With Vikram Chandra’s collection—his second book—it is time to take stock again… Chandra’s Bombay is linguistically multiplanar and authentic… breathtaking in the accuracy of its detail. [Chandra does not rely] on the repertoire of received rumours that also infest the city. He does not reproduce old Bombay stories as his own first inventions. He doesn’t borrow metaphors, he discovers or invents them. — Farrukh Dhondy, The Observer (UK).

Exceptional… Chandra, whose second work of fiction this is, shows himself to be that rare thing, a writer who is simultaneously a master story-teller and a master stylist … In the virtuosity of its writing, now glimmering with mystery and now flashing with menace, it is the equal of anything produced by Martin Amis or William Boyd… [A] remarkable story, “Shakti,” is an account of the rivalry between two women in Bombay high society. One of these women, ageing and unattractive, represents old money; the other, a younger and appealing former air hostess married to a millionaire, represents new. As they battle, in always polite but murderous fashion, for the leadership of their tight, snobbishly exclusive circle, one might be reading, updated, some story of colonial life by Somerset Maugham, so sharp is the irony and so vivid the characterisation. But such stylistic dazzle was beyond Maugham, always so unadventurous in his writing. — Francis King, Spectator (UK).

Vikram Chandra has effected a number of miracles in his new book, a collection of interrelated short stories, which I believe stands up as a really fine novel… it is simply at ease, in a fashion rare in the contemporary novel, rarer yet when that novel addresses India, which seems to whisk many of those who try to approach it in prose into a frenzy. Love and Longing in Bombay is a book that seeps and chatters in the mind of the reader whenever it is set aside. When you finish it, you miss it, as you miss a city, as Bombayites must miss their city even while living in it, on account of its unchanging traditions and daily frantic adaptations to the demands of the population, the industry, the west and the century… How rare and calm a talent… Chandra has decided to distil. The effect is dazzling… . To write with such a swing and ease about so great an area of contested preoccupation is to prove that one is born to it. — Candia McWilliam, The Independent on Sunday (UK).

For all his technical complexity, Chandra’s prose is calm and assured and free of excess. The stories themselves have a perfect, fractal symmetry, each stroke containing the whole in a series of breathtaking, ever-expanding reflections. One forgets, until it suddenly happens, what it’s like to have to put a book down and walk around the room because everything in it is so good and so inevitable that you have no idea what’s going to happen next. — Hillary Johnson, Weekly’s Literary Supplement.

[Vikram Chandra] conjures up an India of glittering Bombay sophisticates, gritty policemen, high finance and low crime… At the core of the book are two novellas of rare narrative force… . a sureness of touch and mastery of structure that are deeply satisfying… Love and Longing in Bombay stands out as a considerable achievement, one in which the author marries his storytelling prowess to a profound understanding of India’s ageless and ever-changing society… . The beguiling self-confidence of Mr. Chandra’s prose is its own vindication… . Today, a new breed of Bombayite—speaking Marathi, disdaining cosmopolitanism and espousing sectarian discipline and Hindu resurgence—has come to power, and the city is officially renamed Mumbai. With Love and Longing in Bombay, Mr. Chandra is advertising his allegiances. In the face of the Mumbaikars’ nativism, his writing—worldly, eclectic and humane—reaffirms the “old” Bombay. — Shashi Tharoor, New York Times Book Review (USA).

A sequence of taut, vivid short stories set in contemporary Bombay which demonstrate that, as well as the fantastic imaginative profusion and the lyric gift manifested in [Chandra’s] first book, he also has the discipline necessary to bring a story into sharper focus until its clarity becomes dazzling, and the versatility of one in sure control of his medium… Chandra’s stories have the resonance of classic fables, and this is derived not from any portentous allusions, but from Chandra’s musical, highly charged prose, which hints at tremendous events and unassuagable sorrow. — Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Times (UK).

This book of five connected tales is full and free and utterly alive, confidently crossing and recrossing contemporary Bombay. These stories are not, in the contemporary Anglo-American mode, temples to the symbol, or museums of the one resonant image that controls meaning. They dip their bucket into a different source. They have a gorgeous elasticity, and an absolute naturalness. All the powers of storytelling that distinguished Chandra’s first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, are mashed into a book half the size… Conceived orally, [the stories] are liberated from “literariness” and purl like stories should… Chandra has no desire to grease his forms into conclusions, or even into artfully unconcluded conclusion (the kind we know from Carver: “He knew things were about to change in his life.”) Instead, there is a Chekovian determination to state the truth… It is remarkable to read a book in which so little is forced, nothing pursed, pomposities not imposed, elegances not fondled. And this is not a merely negative triumph. These stories offer a world. They have the fronded, trailing carelessness that is never truly careless, and which comes from being dragged across actual lives. — James Wood, Guardian (UK).

[Vikram Chandra’s] new book confirms him as a writer gifted equally with profound compassion and glowing technique… In its teeming history, secrecy, abundance and menace, the city becomes an image of the endlessly astonishing possibilities of human encounter: between lovers, mothers and sons, policemen, computer programmers… The book is a rainbow of storytelling, beautifully timed, felt, and observed. — Ruth Padel, Daily Telegraph (UK).

The qualities that give [Love and Longing in Bombay] its freshness and originality are—to mention a few—the ordinariness of his protagonists, the very modern setting of much of his narrative, the sparing allusions to contemporary events, the evocation in throwaway metaphors of life as it is lived, day by day, in one of the world’s most crowded and vibrant cities … Compassionate and penetrating. — Aamer Hussein, Times Literary Supplement (UK).

Compelling… Intriguing… . Bombay emerges vibrantly as a city haunted by gangsterism and simmering communal violence, and riven with distinctions of religion, ethnicity and class… Despite an undertow of loneliness and mortality, moments of clarity make these short stories journeys towards freedom and peace. The telling and hearing of tales, Chandra insists, can heal and exorcize… The titles [of the stories] remain untranslated. Chandra belongs to a confident generation of Indian writers in English who feel little compulsion to gloss. On the evidence of these absorbing stories, that confidence seems more than justified. — Maya Jaggi, The Independent (UK).

An interlocking of stories, five main stories, out of which dozens of other shorter narratives unfold, one story begetting another and another in the concentric kind of narrative structuring Chandra evidently loves. The result, in a prose so lucid and transparent as to be endlessly reassuring, is a maelstrom of loss, desire and romance … The sense builds up throughout Love and Longing in Bombay of a chaotic city laden with stories that are waiting to be found, unravelled, saved; and the sense, too, that we can only understand ourselves through the stories of others, which is the true generosity at the heart of Chandra’s art. Extremely readable, Chandra’s prose is shot through with moments of psychological clarity, beauty and revelation. — Scotsman (UK).

Artfully told… Love and Longing in Bombay leaves you with characters and images that stay with you long after you put the book down. — Nonita Kalra, Indian Express (India).

Richly inventive and confident … Love and Longing in Bombay is an intricately built book, but it never feels murky or obtuse. Once the reader is enticed onto Chandra’s carpet, the ride is smooth and sweeping, and the vistas that open up are filled with passages of surprising magic. — LA Times (USA).

With echoes of the cacophony of Rushdie and the sensuousness of Ondaatje, Vikram Chandra spins bittersweet tales of ghosts and murders, social climbing and hidden pasts in the tumultuous world of modern-day Bombay/Mumbai … A bewitching brew of stories, full of promise, passion, and style. — Paper Magazine (USA).

Love and Longing in Bombay is an ambitious, superbly controlled, gracefully written, humane book. — Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle (USA).

Chandra, whose acclaimed novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain burst with fantastical tales of gods and people and a storytelling monkey, presents us here with more grounded stories of modern Bombay, of people high and low, good, bad, muddled and ambitious, and he does it in a wide variety of genres … Chandra fills the different stories with humour, pain, love, longing, and loss. — Boston Book Review (USA).

*Starred Review* Immensely absorbing … Impeccably controlled, intelligent, sensuous and sometimes grim, Chandra’s timeless and timely book is remarkably life-affirming, considering the dark areas of the heart he explores. — Publisher’s Weekly (USA).

Chandra’s mastery lies in illuminating, through small and seemingly negligible detail, the consciousness of his characters… In spite of the very distinct and modern voices of the main characters, we gain a glimpse into a timeless India. We experience modes of thinking and behaving that include love and longing but go beyond them, that have endured through the centuries. — Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, San Francisco Chronicle (USA).

*Starred Review* Five ingeniously linked long stories by the young Indian-born author whose impressive fictional debut was the magical-realist Red Earth and Pouring Rain… A brilliant work, equally effective in its radiant separate parts and as a pleasingly complex and highly original construction. — Kirkus Reviews (USA).
Chandra’s earlier novel Red Earth was justly lionised; these six [sic] perfectly crafted stories should gain him even more admirers. Each is a telling portrait of Bombay society: a slice of life among the gossipy nouveau riche and a great, noir-ish detective story were personal favourites—but what truly astonishes is the variety of subjects and the author’s fluency in tackling them. — Options (UK).

Love and Longing in Bombay is a collection of first-rate stories with vivid characters and a style that conjures up with swift economy the pain of love and longing… In many ways, Love and Longing in Bombay is more a novel than a collection of stories. As you can see, I liked it immensely and can’t recommend it too strongly. And I can’t wait for Chandra’s next book. — Anil Dharker, Outlook (India).

Vikram Chandra guards the sauna room of the soul, keeping the coals afizz as he saturates the air with dire reminders of fallible, finite, flawed existence… . [These stories] are told by a wise ex-civil servant, Subramaniam, as our narrator. This structure both formalises the storytelling act, and gives it purpose as a pastime, as entertainment, and as instruction. It also emphasises Chandra’s narrative distance, allowing the stories to yield their own meaning and inner yearnings, which, twinned with love, provide both the basis for their force and the book’s grand title and design. — Tom Adair, Scotland on Sunday (UK).

The five stories are all love stories, yet they are also stylish mysteries. Chandra’s style is reminiscent of the nineteenth-century short story in his elegant plots and his interests in ghosts (in “Dharma”), high society (in “Shakti”), detectives (in “Kama”) and gangsters (in “Artha”). But Love and Longing in Bombay is very much set in Bombay and in the twentieth century—the nostalgic poise of the prose is blended with the sweep and chaos of modern Indian city life. This is a winning combination… . Love and Longing in Bombay is a thoroughly enjoyable collection written by an accomplished and promising writer. — Virginia Crompton, Literary Review (UK).

The Bombay which Chandra portrays is a city just as vivid, vainglorious, and kaleidoscopic as that of Rushdie, but at the same time it exudes a greater charm, it has a certain stillness and languor… [Love and Longing in Bombay] is impeccably controlled and possesses a luminous intelligence. — Emran Mian, The Herald (UK).

[Love and Longing in Bombay is] … .an important landmark… . contemporary and real… . It is Bombay which comes alive in these stories—Bombay where different classes collide, confront and coalesce in each other, because it is the only place in India where the power of capital is palpable and money has its own dynamic. It is a city full of fervour, always on the move and its people are devoid of that corrosive emotion of self-pity. Vikram Chandra has been able to capture this spirit, but also the influence of the criminal underworld and the communal politics which has cast a long shadow over Bombay, transforming it to Mumbai… . These stories… . make no overt statement but bring alive the extraordinariness that mark the most “ordinary” lives. — Manini Chaterjee, The Hindu (India).

[Love and Longing in Bombay] is … .effortless and enchanting in both idea and form. — Financial Express (India).
Chandra’s narratives [are] taut and dramatically paced, evocative and lushly written… compelling… . finely crafted. — Tammie Bob, Chicago Tribune (USA).

Short fiction is rarely more powerful than Chandra’s masterpiece “Kama,” which has an intense complexity that Ruth Rendell (writing as herself and as Barbara Vine) might achieve if she slowed down… . Chandra enriches this first -rate detective fiction by having the search for the killer reflected in Sartaj’s parallel journey into his own heart and soul as he faces a messy divorce and doubts about his competence and honesty… . Chandra never loses control of his sensational material, never allows us to have serious doubts about the 24 -carat quality of his art. — Neil Jillett, The Sunday Age (Australia).

If a picture paints a thousand words, then sometimes a thousand words can create just as many vivid images. I knew almost from the first word of Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra (Faber & Faber) that I would find it an absolute delight to read and I was not disappointed… . Chandra’s writing is remarkably clear, with a great ability to provide remarkable imagery. The stories are rooted in a great sense of location, which reminds me of somebody like Steinbeck at his best. Chandra manages to leave the reader with a clear sense of the dynamic nature of Bombay, and divisions in modern India… … .this is a great book from a writer who clearly knows how to entertain his readers by actually telling stories. — Lochaber News (UK).

[Vikram Chandra] has succeeded his much lauded first novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain with a collection of five vignettes titled Love and Longing in Bombay. Each story revels in Chandra’s great love of, and talent for, storytelling. Impossible not to lose yourself in its tumultuous emotions borne of subcontinental passion, longing, evil, death, spirits, and dreams of Bollywood. — The Age, Saturday Extra (Australia).

A personal and fascinating view of a labyrinthine Bombay and its inhabitants, themselves layered characters… . A remarkable and rewarding work. — David Nichols, The Big Issue (Australia).

Absorbing… . The story teller weaves his familiar but special magic which is disturbing and humorous in equal measure. Chandra has the power to captivate and shock his readers… . Although this is a radical departure from the style and content of his first novel, it nevertheless displays the continued intelligent command of diverse materials… . For his many fans this will be a delight. It also confirms the young New Delhi [sic] writer as without question a power to be reckoned with. His next novel is looked forward to with eager anticipation. — Shortlist, Yorkshire Post (UK).

Love and Longing in Bombay is a dazzling collection of loosely intertwined stories. Chandra’s tone and control of nuance never falter. He steers a steady course between the commonplace and the exotic… . Exhilarating. — Andrew Reimer, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

When Rohinton Mistry was an adolescent, he wanted to be the Bob Dylan of Bombay. If Vikram Chandra had been born in 1951 and not 1961, he might have dreamed of becoming the Beatles—all four at once. His fiction is street smart and politically aware, acerbic and romantic, virtuosic and driven by inner life, high-spirited and broadly comic, very contemporary yet rooted in popular traditions carried forward from Victorian times… Chandra’s distinctive achievement lies in the ways he ingeniously connects that which is oldest and deepest within Hindu traditions with whatever is newest and most superficial in Bombay society while writing variations on genres of more westerly origin… . In its breeziness, bitchiness, and drollery, “Shakti” is the verbal match of the gossip-driven stories in Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers. And like Capote at his very best, Chandra reaches deep inside these lives and uncovers the longing for love in a child that can turn even the best laid plans of an astute mother upside down and the social order with it… . Salman Rushdie has called Chandra flamboyant, and Chandra does write with the flash and dash of the great batsmen his cricket loving characters so admire. But what makes him even more satisfying to read is that his writing is as focussed, precise and accurate as the best of fast bowlers. — T.F. Rigelhof, The Citizen (Canada).

Wonderfully complex and entertaining… Mr. Chandra’s touch is light, and his nuanced prose style is a delight to read. This collection reminds one of the fundamental pleasures of fiction: the enjoyment of surrendering to the engaging imagination of a superior writer. — Mark Bautz, The Washington Times (USA).

Chandra doesn’t grasp the city so much as let it spill forth in sentences that are both winding and concise. The effect of his pointed and hypnotic prose is of moving through a hurried crowd slowly enough to see the yearning in everyone’s face… . Chandra displays as light a satirical touch as if he were Edith Wharton set loose in Malabar Hill, the Great Neck of Bombay… . Chandra knows how to catch a whole era of expectation and loss in a single phrase. — John Weir, Newsday (USA).

Chandra brilliantly captures [Bombay] in his five loosely linked stories… The final story, “Shanti,” stands slightly apart from the others, as Subramaniam invites the narrator back to his house to hear what turns out to be the story of how he met his wife, Shanti. Here, as the teller enters his tale, the stories merge with the frame narrative. It is a clever and utterly convincing conclusion to a superbly crafted collection of stories. — Ralph Crane, The Evening Post (New Zealand).

Chandra caught my eye with a marvelous short story about a Sikh policeman named Sartaj Singh which appeared in said India issue of The New Yorker. The story offered the right mix of crime drama and insightful character detail, and Chandra struck me as someone who was capable of, above all else, spinning a really good yarn. The story was open-ended and somewhat ambiguous, yet not in the desultory, I-have-no-idea-how-to-wrap-this-up manner of so many contemporary short stories. And the character of Sartaj Singh was immediately compelling: the disciplined, talented policeman who is deeply conflicted and suspects that ultimately the biggest crimes—the ones we do to ourselves—can never be solved… The five stories in this collection, woven around the classic framing device of an old man telling stories in a bar, run the stylistic gamut: high comedy of manners, magical realism fabulation, crime writing worthy of Elmore Leonard, heartbreaking romance. They also capture the richness and feel of Bombay itself, making the city into an “unspoken character,” like the aged recluse that no one in the family sees yet everyone’s life revolves around… “Kama,” a long story focussing on the aforementioned Sartaj Singh, is the jewel of the book: a gripping tale of detection where the mysteries of the heart conquer the mundane resolutions of the police investigator. Singh, recently and irrevocably divorced from his wife, struggles with the dark places the failure of his marriage has taken him while trying to solve an apparently open-and-shut murder case. The story has all the familiar pleasures of the detective genre without descending into full cliche. As is the case with all superior examples of the genre, this can be attributed to the character of Singh himself. Singh is one of those creations that all writers secretly hope to stumble upon: the character who instantly compels with his believability. Reflective, moral, cynical yet filled with hope, Singh takes his place alongside the modern fictional detectives who simultaneously doubt and keep faith in the power of detection to make sense out of life… I don’t know how many of the new wave of Indian writers I’ll have a chance at (too many books, too little time), but I know that Vikram Chandra’s releases are at the top of the list from here on. — Vince Benedict, Scope Magazine (UK).

Love and Longing in Bombay is a collection of five luxuriously paced long stories linked by a frame so well developed that as each story began I found myself missing the frame, wanting more of the first-person narrator, Ranjit and his story-telling acquaintance, Subramaniam… Chandra’s playfulness with narrative form never distances his characters or undermines the believability of his stories. His characters are fully developed and nearly as diverse as the population of their home… Chandra’s generously narrated frame as well as the richly developed stories themselves draw the reader into the thoroughly convincing world in which these stories are told——Mumbai without either the exoticizing or stereotyping that tend to satisfy the expectations of an audience thousands of miles away. Both frame and stories present Mumbai as the modern Indian city it is, replete with Meeruthis, street lights, mansions and shanty towns, computers, businessmen, artists and crooks. Love and Longing in Bombay, in short, develops complex, convincing characters that stay with a reader long after she has closed the book, narrates involved, absorbing stories not easily forgotten either, and recreates a world that does its setting justice. It does all this in a spirit of artistry both timeless and contemporary at the same time. It is an excellent book. — Robbie Clipper Sethi, India Star Magazine (USA).

Love and Longing in Bombay is a skilfully crafted collection of five carefully linked long stories. Each exhibits a formal unity and stylish assurance that compares more closely to the subtle undertatements of such other Indian writers as R. Prawer Jhabvala and Anita Desai… .. [Chandra’s] economically written stories are… crammed with resonant specific detail and feature unusually replete and convincing characterizations… . We are… led to suspect that Subramaniam has fantasized and reshaped fragments of his own life in all these stories, and that his young listener is influenced to follow his example. Perhaps, in some Chinese-box fashion or other, even their creator’s own loves and longings have been artfully transformed into these seductive and beguiling stories. Whether or not that’s true, the result is an altogether wonderful book. — Bruce Allen, World & I.

Incidents and ambiguities in Vikram Chandra’s short stories Love and Longing in Bombay (Faber) remain in my mind and nag at me, weeks after I first read them. — Mark Fisher, Books of the Year, The Independent (London).

Good as his debut was, he surpassed it with Love and Longing in Bombay. It’s an odd, unclassifiable form; five short stories, loosely connected in theme and setting, building to a considerable whole. Chandra is a writer completely unafraid of being thought old-fashioned, and the book unwinds as a series of stories told by a narrator in a bar. Though Chandra is still very interested in magical realism, at the heart of the book are some wonderfully Victorian subjects and good, solid, traditional stories. I adored his tale of social climbing and social revenge among Bombay matrons, “Shakti,” as fine-grained and catty as Proust. A marvellous, irresistible pleasure, and a fabulous new voice in the Indian novel. — Philip Hensher, Books for Christmas, Mail on Sunday (USA).

Reading this quintet of brilliantly sculpted short fictions one is not only made to feel the physical crush of contemporary Bombay—a fusion of the beautiful and dangerous, the mythic and mundane, ghosts and gangsters—but also given an insight into its infrastructure: caste, sex, money and religion. Chandra’s prose skates across the genres with surefooted grace, his versatility reflected in laconic social comedies, tender tales of romance or, as in the long centrepiece, “Kama,” a masterly detective story. The latter, featuring a down-at-heel, soon-to-be-divorced, Sikh cop dragging his heavy heart through the urban anomie, grips with its mystery, aches with empty lust and sears with naked emotion. Buy. — Sunday Times (UK).

Interview with Farrukh Dhondy, The Hindu, March 1, 1998:
Hindu: How would you rate Indian writers writing in English?

FD: I thought Midnight’s Children was a great break in writing; it was quite a coup. After that is Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay. If I was to classify, these are the two books.

[Vikram] Chandra’s debut novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, won distinguished awards and has now been succeeded by his second, Love and Longing in Bombay, which will no doubt receive critical accolades in days to come… Chandra… is almost a conjurer in manipulating situation and plot while capturing in incandescent prose the ongoing life of a vibrant but ugly modern megalopolis. — Guy Amirthanayagam, The Washington Post (USA).

Once in a while you come across a book that makes you read with a kind of greed, as if you were breaking a fast. Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay is that type of book—one that was written to be devoured… Throughout each of these diverse stories, Chandra’s prose shimers like heat over long descriptive passages. Despite the exotic setting, the stories have an immediacy that makes them universal. After the dozens and dozens of books I’ve read recently, this is one that has stayed with me. Read it, and perhaps it will stay with you as well. — Anneli M. Levy, Entertainment Gazette (USA).