The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others

Book - 2014
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1967, Calcutta. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in student unrest, agitation, extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before departing is a note. His family begins unraveling as the society around it fractures. This is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change: the chasm between the generations, and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider.
Publisher: London :, Chatto & Windus,, 2014
ISBN: 9780701186296
Branch Call Number: F MUK NVD
Characteristics: [xii], 516 pages : map ; 24 cm

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uncommonreader
Mar 02, 2016

This is a wonderful book. Set in the late 1960s in Bengal, it tells the story of an upper middle class family and their decline. One family member leaves to join the Naxalites to educate and help indigenous peasants revolt against unbelievable repression. It raises interesting questions about what happens when nothing is done about the connections between power, poverty and injustice.

manoush Oct 25, 2014

A highly engrossing novel about an upper-class extended family household in 1960s Calcutta. Much has been said about the complicated historical context and the confusing family relations in the novel, but I had no trouble following any aspect of the narrative. There's a clear family tree at the beginning of the novel and a helpful glossary of Bengali/Hindi terms at the end. There's no need to provincialize or 'other' Mukherjee's novel simply because it takes place in a remote time and place. It's no more complicated or labyrinthine than any family saga in Western literature.

The novel opens with the most searing vignette that I've read in prose in a long, long time, an unforgettable image that frames the socio-political context of West Bengal in the 1960s, when rampant inequality led to an armed insurgency that drew in some members of the professional and intellectual classes. Within this context we're introduced to the Ghoshes, a family of four children (and their spouses and children) sired by a stern, striving industrialist. The complicated, "operatic" dramas of the extended family are rendered beautifully by the author and read like a highbrow soap opera. The second strand of the narrative is more plodding but not without its own allure, in the form of letters written by the eldest grandson Pratik to a lover whose identity is slowly revealed toward the end (but who is obvious to discerning readers). The technique of switching between the two narratives for the most part works well, but the writing does sag in the middle and then hurriedly accelerates toward the end.

For a novel of this length and scope, Mukherjee manages to cogently convey the complexities of many characters (except, oddly, the central character of the matriarch), but there are several half-baked sketches and storylines, and Chhaya (the embittered, ugly spinster aunt) is a caricature. I kept waiting for the chapter that would reveal other dimensions of her hate-addled personality but it never came. There are some scenes of soaring beauty in the novel, notably a quotidian moment in the family garden when a bird captures a firefly (reproduced in the artwork on the inside front cover of the book).

m
mclarjh
Oct 11, 2014

Disappointing.

PS: I read the copy in uottawa Morriset library.

Sep 25, 2014

Readers need *a lot* of knowledge about the turmoil in West Bengal during the '60s and '70s to fully understand this book.

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