A heartrending new book -- the story of a marriage and
the story of two lives -- from the author of the international bestselling
novel A Suitable Boy
Shanti Behari Seth was born on the eighth day of the eighth month in the eighth year of the twentieth century; he died two years before its close. He was brought up in India in the apparently vigorous but dying Raj and was sent by his family in the 1930s to Berlin -- though he could not speak a word of German -- to study medicine and dentistry. It was here, before he migrated to Britain, that Shanti's path first crossed that of his future wife.
Helga Gerda Caro, known to everyone as "Henny" was also born in 1908, in Berlin, to a Jewish family -- cultured, patriotic, and intensely German. When the family decided to take Shanti as a lodger, Henny's first reaction was, "Don't take the black man!" But a friendship flowered, and when Henny fled Hitler's Germany for England just one month before war broke out, she was met at Victoria Station by the only person in the country she knew: Shanti.
Vikram Seth has woven together their astonishing story, which recounts the arrival into this childless couple's lives of their great-nephew from India -- the teenage student Vikram Seth. The result is an extraordinary tapestry of India, the Third Reich and the Second World War, Auschwitz and the Holocaust, Israel and Palestine, postwar Germany and 1970s Britain.
Two Lives is both a history of a violent century seen through the eyes of two survivors and an intimate portrait of their friendship, marriage, and abiding yet complex love. Part biography, part memoir, part meditation on our times, this is the true tale of two remarkable lives -- a masterful telling from one of our greatest living writers.
When I was seventeen I went to live with my great-uncle and great-aunt in England. He was Indian by origin, she German. They were both sixty. I hardly knew them at the time. It was August 1969 the monsoon season in Calcutta. A few days before I left, Mama had taken me to a temple to be blessed, which was most unlike her. She and Papa came to see me off at Dumdum Airport. I arrived at Heathrow in the afternoon. My great-uncle and great-aunt were still away on their annual holiday in Switzerland and, as I recall, I was met at the terminal by someone in the firm for which my father worked. My first impression was of the width of the road that led (under grey skies) to London. I was housed for a night in a drab hotel somewhere near Green Park.
That evening Shanti Uncle and Aunty Henny returned from Switzerland, and the following day I and my luggage arrived at their door.
I looked at the house that was to be my home for the next few years. There...
Vikram Seth was born in India and educated there and in
England, California, and China. He has written acclaimed books in several
genres: verse novel, The Golden Gate; travel book, From Heaven
Lake; animal fables, Beastly Tales; epic novel, A Suitable Boy,
and a couple of books for children.
The Golden Gate (1986)
A Suitable Boy (1993)
An Equal Music (1999)
Humble Administrator's Garden (1985)
All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990)
Beastly Tales (1991)
Three Chinese Poets (1992)
From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang And Tibet (1983)
Two Lives (2005)
If you liked Two Lives, try these:
A moving, realistic, but always hopeful narrative novel of the Wu family - father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao - as they fully sever their ties with China in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and begin a new, free life in the United States.
The stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, liberated 400 million people from the British Empire. With the loss of India, its greatest colony, Britain ceased to be a superpower, and its king ceased to sign himself Rex Imperator. This is the remarkable story of the events surrounding this transition.
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