Pallavi Aiyar's witty debut recounts her five-year long experience of China. China is at an historical point where tradition and modernity, communism and capitalism, chaos and control, rub up against each other on a daily basis. In order to remain in power through this period of far-reaching transformations, the Chinese Communist Party must walk a tightrope, balancing and mediating the conflicting needs and aspirations of its various constituencies. Smoke and Mirrors spotlights these contradictions and describes the different strategies the Party and the people deploy to manage them.

It also portrays China through Indian eyes and vice versa; a mirroring that shows up the failings and achievements of both civilizations--which are in many ways each other's alter ego. It takes a look at how people from the two sides of the Himalayas perceive each other; their prejudices and miscomprehensions as well as their similarities and shared circumstances. A combination of travelogue, reportage and memoir, this warm-hearted book is the first ever written by a Mandarin-speaking Indian foreign correspondent on China.


  • Smoke and Mirrors by Joyce Lau, International Herald Tribune

    "Smoke and Mirrors" is a smart, insightful book about modern China… What sets Aiyar's work apart is that it is not written by an academic or expert, nor is it told from either a Western or Chinese viewpoint...... she has discovered a way of bridging her native and adopted homes. As someone well acquainted with the problems of Asian development, she easily sees past the smoke and mirrors of China's shiny new metropolis

  • India/China Reality Check by Sukhdev Sandhu, The New Statesman

    A deeply insightful and often very amusing mixture of travelogue, memoir and political analysis …..offers a perspective that benefits vastly from the time she has spent talking to villagers, small traders and economic migrants as much as to CEOs and think-tank wonks…..Clever, engaging, reflexive: Aiyar's book will affront "India Shining" ideologues as much as it punctures the gassy platitudes of "Chindia" boosters.

  • Chinese takeaway by Sunil Sethi, India Today

    Smoke and Mirrors is by far the most well-informed and entertaining account of life in the Middle Kingdom by an Indian in recent years.

  • India’s Chinese Wall by Jeffrey Wassesrstrom, Foreign Policy

    We benefit from having Aiyar’s cultural vantage point and nuanced lens. She is a better guide to exploring those issues that don’t easily fit into the already hackneyed “Dragon vs. Elephant” cliché. And when it comes to answering that all-important question of how these countries are improving the future for their citizens, who better to help us understand than someone who knows them both with the love of a native and the curiosity of a traveler?

  • Smoke and Mirrors by Pankaj Mishra

    Spurning the usual West-centric perspective on China, Pallavi Aiyar brings a sharp assessing eye to her intractably complex subject. In brisk, often entertaining, prose, she exposes the rich paradoxes and ironies of both 'authoritarian' China and 'democratic' India.

  • Sonia Gandhi on ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ by Sonia Gandhi, President, Congress Party

    Smoke and Mirrors is thoroughly entertaining and educative, written with wit and perception in a lively and evocative style. Aiyar’s observations and experiences helped me to better understand China to which I have been an occasional visitor.

  • Smoke and Mirrors: Review by Sanjaya Baru, Outlook Magazine

    An Indian window has finally been opened onto contemporary China...a witty, insightful and profound book...It deserves to be widely read in India and around the world.

  • Smoke and Mirrors: Review by Business World

    With grace and humour, Aiyar brings to life what would otherwise have been dreary explanations of Chinese culture...Don't skip this one.

  • Wrapped in the riddle of the Middle Kingdom by Sumana Ramanan, Hindustan Times

    A landmark...Aiyar seamlessly combines reportage and analysis.