Book review: Neel Mukherjee’s ‘The Lives of Others’

November 3, 2014 2:22 PM

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Book review: Neel Mukherjee’s ‘The Lives of Others’

The Naxalite insurgency that began in 1967 has held a snug purchase over West Bengal’s literary psyche. The tragedy of state jackboots crushing idealistic students smitten with communism weighs heavily on the collective imagination. Last fall, Jhumpa Lahiri tried halfheartedly to use Naxalism as a fuzzy framing device for her novel The Lowland. Now, Neel Mukherjee has set the bar a little higher in The Lives of Others, a finalist for this year’s Man Booker prize.

In the novel’s horrific prologue, a laborer reeling from drought and debt slaughters his starving family and swallows a deadly dose of insecticide. What can such poor people in rural Medinipur possibly have to do with the Ghoshes, a decadent, self-absorbed family in Kolkata? This becomes clear when ...

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