The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others

Book - 2014
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Chronicles the vicissitudes of the extended Ghosh family as internal rivalries accompany the implosion of the family business and external social unrest.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. :, W. W. Norton & Company,, 2014
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780393247909
Characteristics: 516 pages : map, genealogical table ; 25 cm


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Oct 07, 2018

The Lives of Others is a poem about the wealthy, influential Ghosh family and their conflicts with each other, the demands and restriction of their culture, and the corrupt government they live (and die) under. Three generations live under one roof, with sharp divisions of privileges between the favored and unflavored families. They connive, support, envy, love, and betray one other; all that, plus the family business faces a sharp decline which threatens their lifestyle, security, and standing in the community.
I call it a poem because it is so beautifully written that each paragraph can be enjoyed on its own; no need to know what’s going on, just relish the telling. There’s a shadow poem, too, advancing on its own after every chapter. One of the sons becomes involved with a revolutionary group committed to fighting the prevalent corruption. His story I didn’t love so much.

Jan 28, 2018

Very well written but I got over half way through and just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Every major character is utterly unlikable. I got to wondering if this author is a total misanthrope. Very depressing.

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).

Oct 11, 2014


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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