Sunday, 21 February 2010

Book of the Week - Neel Mukherjee, A Life Apart

Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta and educated in Calcutta, Oxford, and Cambridge. He reviews fiction for the Times and TIME Magazine Asia and has written for the TLS, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the New York Times, the Boston Review, the Sunday Telegraph and Biblio. He is also a contributing editor to Boston Review. He divides his time between London and the USA. A Life Apart (Constable & Robinson, London, 2010) was originally published in India and the US as Past Continuous (Picador India, 2008), and was joint winner of the Vodafone-Crossword Award, India’s premier literary award for writing in English, for best novel of 2008 (along with Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies). Neel also won the GQ (India) Writer of the Year award in the magazine’s first Men of the Year awards in September 2009. Reviews have been very positive, and novels set in India have a strong tradition of performing well in the Booker Prize. Signed firsts are currently available from Foyles at £12.99, which seems very good value.

"A Life Apart tells two stories. The first is of Ritwik’s; a story of a young man’s escape from a blighted childhood of squalor and abuse in Calcutta to the edge of what he considers to be a new world, full of possibilities, in England, where he has a chance to start all over again. But his past, especially the scarred, all-consuming relationship with his mother, is a minefield: will Ritwik find the salvation he is looking for? Could it arrive in the form of the second story that comprises the novel, the one he is writing himself, the story of an Englishwoman in the old world of Bengal on the eve of India’s first partition? Or could it be in the figure of the eighty-six-year-old Anne Cameron, fragile and damaged, who gives shelter to Ritwik in London in exchange of the care that she needs? And then one night, in the badlands of King’s Cross, Ritwik meets the suave, unfathomable Zafar bin Hashm. As present and past of several lives collide, Ritwik’s own goes into free fall.
Set in India during the 1970s and ’80s, in England in the ’90s and in Raj Bengal in the 1900s, this award-winning first novel from one of India’s most acclaimed new writers is about dislocation and alienation, outsiders and losers, the tenuous and unconscious intersections of lives and histories, and the consolations of storytelling. Unsentimental yet full of compassion, and written with unrelenting honesty, this scalding debut marks a new turning point in writing from and of the Subcontinent."

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