13 July, 2014

#BookReview :: The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Calcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is this note .

The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. More than poisonous rivalries among sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business, this is a family unravelling as the society around it fractures. For 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.

Ambitious, rich and compassionate The Lives of Others anatomises the soul of a nation as it unfolds a family history. A novel about many things, including the limits of empathy and the nature of political action, it asks: how do we imagine our place amongst others in the world? Can that be reimagined? And at what cost? This is a novel of unflinching power and emotional force.

The Lives of Others narrates the story of one Supratik and his family, set in the 1960s Calcutta. This is the era when the Naxalite were terrorizing and changing the lives of many. While Supratik’s family is struggling with a crumbling business, his concern is more focused towards improving the lives of the poor through communist ideals. So of course there is a clash of ideals and thoughts within the family. How does Supratik handle things? What steps would he take?

The title itself is intriguing and very apt for the scenario. We Indians have a tendency to evaluate and judge the Lives of others never mind the status of our own. Through the protagonist, Supratik, the author probably tells the story of hundred other youngsters of the time. He is a strong character with a mind of his own and the will to follow through his ideals. Besides, him the other characters may feel a bit dull though they each bring in their own flavours to the novel. I especially enjoyed reading about the nuances of a Bengali family that is so typical that made me feel like I know Supratik’s family. Then there is the matter of author’s depiction of the Naxalite band and their effect – of the violence of that era. He has handled it with as much honesty as about the rest of the things in the book.

Overall a refreshingly well narrated story of all things Bengali, with s strong plot (and sub-plots) that will keep the reader engaged throughout.

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