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The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2014.

Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014.

There are a lot of books about India, this is one of the best. It is a huge 500+ page family saga with a family tree in the front which you will need to refer to often. It covers some 70 years in the life of the Ghose family, once wealthy papermakers, now drowning in debt. They are a traditional family of arranged marriages and a hierarchical structure who, despite hard times, need to keep up appearances. But beneath the respectable surface there are, of course, tensions, rivalries, snobbery, jealousy and grudges. The story switches between characters and through time with only a rebellious left-wing grandson being given the first person. It is long and complicated and wonderful, totally absorbing with a good smattering of politics and culture amid the human drama. Highly recommended.

The Costa Judges said Mukherjee's novel was “politically charged, ambitious and sometimes harsh in its evocation of India, it teems with memorable characters and the complexities of family.”

If you like Neel Mukherjee you might also like to read books by Vikrem Seth, Amitav Ghosh and Vikas Swarup.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Set in India during the second half of the 1960s, this magisterial novel centres on three generations of the Ghosh family, a melange of middle-class anxieties and obsessions, from arranged marriages to whether the servants are preparing their food correctly. The family made its money from making paper, but has fallen on relatively hard times, forced to sell some of its mills. The patriarch is blissfully unaware of this, and his son and heir, Adanath, is not going to tell him if it can be avoided. In turn, Adanath’s sons, have secrets that they wish to keep from their parents. The younger smokes dope and drinks, but his brother, Sipratik, has become involved with the communist Naxalite movement that abhors everything that a bourgeois family like the Ghoshes represent. Mukherjee creates a very believable world in which the jealousies and rivalries of one family are representative of the country at large.
~ Anthony Lafferty


The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

'Ma, I feel exhausted with consuming, with taking and grabbing and using. I am so bloated that I feel I cannot breathe any more. I am leaving to find some air, some place where I shall be able to purge myself, push back against the life given me and make my own. I feel I live in a borrowed house. It's time to find my own. Forgive me.' 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.

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Neel Mukherjee has written an outstanding novel: compelling, compassionate and complex, vivid, musical and fierce. - Rose Tremain

A devastating portrayal of a decadent society and the inevitably violent uprising against it, in the tradition of such politically charged Indian literature as the work of Prem Chand, Manto and Mulk Raj Anand. It is ferocious, unsparing and brutally honest. - Anita Desai

About the Author

Neel Mukherjee

Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta and educated in Calcutta, Oxford, and Cambridge. He reviews fiction for The Times and Time Magazine Asia and has written for the TLS, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the New York Times, the Boston Review, the Sunday Telegraph and Biblio. He is also a contributing editor to the Boston Review. He divides his time between London and the USA. A Life Apart is his first novel.

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Book Info

Publication date

22nd May 2014


Neel Mukherjee

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