Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two lives

Vikram Seth ISBN 0-316-72774-1
Published September 2005

“Don’t take the black man” were the first words Henny Caro first said about Shanti Seth when he was proposed as a lodger in her family home – hardly a promising start to a relationship which was to last the rest of their lives.

Shanti and Henny Seth were not famous, at least prior to the publication of this book. Their lives spanned a fair proportion of the twentieth century and they were dominated and changed forever by the rise of Nazism and the second world war.

Shanti, born in 1908 and brought up in India, was sent to study dentistry in Berlin in the 1930s although he did not speak a word of German. It was there that he met Henny who came from a patriotic “intensely German” family. In addition to her initial hostility, she was also engaged to someone else.

She was able to get out of Germany and went to reside in London where they became close friends. He lost his arm at the battle of Monte Cassino but went on to pursue a successful career despite his disability. It was only after the war that she learned that her mother and sister died in Auschwitz. The book traces her search for the truth about their fate.

This close intimate portrayal of their lives by their nephew is a powerful work of art and will not leave any reader unmoved.

Interestingly as well as dealing in detail with the plight of the Jewish families in Berlin during the war it also deals with the less well-documented suffering of Germans in the post war period.

It also deals with the effect on Henny’s group of close friends in Berlin, Jewish and non Jewish, one of whom became an apologist for the Nazis. The personal is political in this novel but there is nothing but the most superficial of political analysis on the part of the writer; the reader has to provide that.

In addition to spanning the century, the narrative spans the globe, from India, Germany, Israel and Palestine to Britain where they lived most of their lives.

Reflecting on the story which he has been telling, the author concludes, “Behind every door in every ordinary street, in every hut in every ordinary village on this middling planet of a trivial star, such riches are to be found.”

Read it.



Blogger ickle_fairwee said...

That has definitely left me salivating and wanting to go out and read the text.
Must continue to revise for my exams. Oh and get through Ann Frank :o)

5:52 PM  

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