A good author knows his place in a story, such as crouched and curious in an old lady’s apartment as she’s interviewed by linguists. In the title story in this collection, the old lady is the last speaker of her language. Never named, academics preserve it by recording her stories and songs, and becoming endeared to her along the way. Some songs require multiple takes, as she changes the words to suit what she wants to say. Unnamed, the language is not the point of the story; the point is our interest, along with the ethnographers’ and the ease-dropping little boy’s. The point is the impact of this story, and others, on our lives, the way they make us want to find out not only how they turn out, but how we turn out because of them, how we can turn out our own stories. Tharoor creates settings with his words. The sea is evoked in “Astrolade” in the languid, rolling pace of the sentences. “Icebreakers” is as crisp, spare and truncated as the frozen landscape in which the sailors can’t sail. Tharoor captures the mood in New York surrounding 9-11 through the eyes of an escaped chef. Who better to tell the tale than one who the one missed for his excellent cooking, for making sustenance not a necessity but a pleasure? Let Tharoor serve you up a delicious tale or 13. You won’t be sorry you spent time with tea drinkers and Alexander the the Great instead of actually doing something.