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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Three Lives

In a Boston Globe review of Vikram Seth's Two Lives, Laila Lalami makes a telling point which, if heeded, would have made for a slimmer book:

''Two Lives would have more properly been called ''Three Lives," for the book tells the story not just of Shanti and Henny but also of Seth -- his time at Tonbridge, Oxford, and Stanford, his struggle to learn German (like his uncle's, 40 years earlier), his travels through Europe as a student, his work in China, his decision to write fiction, the research he undertook, his views on the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the question of the old Palestine, and his feelings about his uncle's decision to leave most of the family out of his will. In this sense, the book is both biography and memoir, and in trying to do both it doesn't quite succeed at either. This might have made for a better book had Seth devoted his considerable talent to a novel based on Shanti and Henny's improbable yet lasting relationship, and their lives in Germany and Britain before and after World War II. As it stands, however, Two Lives delivers an incomplete portrait of a fascinating couple."


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