Summary and book reviews of The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

The Lives of Others

by Neel Mukherjee

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

Ambitious, rich, and compassionate, The Lives of Others is a novel of unflinching power and emotional force which anatomizes the soul of a nation as it unfolds a family's history.

The aging patriarch and matriarch of the Ghosh family preside over their large household, made up of their five adult children and their respective children, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. Each set of family members occupies a floor of the home, in accordance to their standing within the family. Poisonous rivalries between sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business threaten to unravel bonds of kinship as social unrest brews in greater Indian society. 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. The eldest grandchild, Supratik, compelled by his idealism, becomes dangerously involved in extremist political activism—an action that further catalyzes the decay of the Ghosh home.

Ambitious, rich, and compassionate, The Lives of Others anatomizes the soul of a nation as it unfolds a family history, at the same time as it questions the nature of political action and the limits of empathy. It is a novel of unflinching power and emotional force.

Excerpt
The Lives of Others

Around six, the zoo starts to shake itself up from its brief sleep. Lying in bed, wide awake, Purnima hears the stirrings of life, each animal, each part of each animal, becoming animated in slow succession. Under the mosquito net the September humidity is already beginning to congeal into the suffocating blanket it will soon become. The fan, running at its top speed of five, battles away, unmindful of its futility. The only thing it circulates around the room is the sound of the fluttery pages of the Ghosh Gold Palace calendar hanging from a nail on the cream-painted walls. That calendar is a sign of her defiance; by some silent understanding reached a long time before she arrived in this house, all tokens of Ghosh Gold Palace are forbidden here, so she has made a point of having their calendar on the wall in her room.

Beside her, Priyo sleeps the sleep of the sinless. His early-morning snore has a three-toned sound to it – a snarly growl in the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Claiming that you can't be an Indian writer without politics somehow seeping into your work, Neel Mukherjee makes no bones about his novel, The Lives Of Others, being a deeply political animal. Mukherjee expertly fuses his political ambitions into his narrative plots. While Supratik’s story carries its agenda overtly, the story of the Ghoshes also serves to reinforce Mukherjee's belief that the family is the primary unit of exploitation.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (894 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A devastatingly detailed account… This challenging epic has the scope of a political novel and the humanity of a family saga without sentimentality.

Booklist

Starred Review. Like a rolling stone, Mukherjee's nonostentatious epic accrues its weight and mass gradually… This is an immensely accomplished, steady-handed achievement, Victorian in its solidity, quietly enthralling in its insightful observation of the ties that bind.

The Guardian (UK)

Very ambitious and very successful... One of Mukherjee's great gifts is precisely his capacity to imagine the lives of others... Neel Mukherjee terrifies and delights us simultaneously

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Masterful... His fierce intelligence and sophisticated storytelling combine to produce an unforgettable portrait of one family riven by the forces of history and their own desires.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Rich and engrossing... Consistently vivid and well realised.

The New Statesman (UK)

Unfailingly beautiful.... Resembles a tone poem in its dazzling orchestration of the crescendo of domestic racket. His eye is as acute as his ear: the physicality of people and objects is delineated with a hyper-aesthetic vividness.

Author Blurb Amitav Ghosh, author of The Glass Palace
Searing, savage, and deeply moving: an unforgettably vivid picture of a time of turmoil.

Author Blurb Anita Desai
A devastating portrayal of a decadent society and the inevitably violent uprising against it... It is ferocious, unsparing, and brutally honest.

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Beyond the Book

Farmer Suicides in India

The Lives of Others begins with a shocking murder suicide. A farmer, Nitai Das, kills his children and wife and then himself, out of sheer desperation resulting from abject poverty and hunger. The book's protagonist, Supratik Ghosh, decides to move to rural West Bengal, to help the plight of farmers caught in an endless cycle of debt and poverty.

Preventing Farmer SuicideWhile farming is an occupation where the suicide rate is already high, it is especially so in India. Between 2001 and 2011, a yearly average of 16,743 deaths by suicide were recorded in farming communities.

Many factors, some broad and others specific, have been labeled as contributing to this epidemic. The liberalization of the Indian economy in the '90s lead to the country's booming ...

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