The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

This is a big, powerful, compelling and illuminating novel set in West Bengal in the late 1960s from Neel Mukherjee ( and

The book explores power, oppression and rebellion both in the household of the Ghosh family and the society that surrounds it. From its unforgettable and shocking opening to its thought-provoking conclusion, it’s a vivid, absorbing and constantly surprising saga, peopled with finely-drawn characters and told with exceptional insight and a wealth of sensuous detail.

If you know next to nothing about Bengali culture, food, idioms, traditions and history, this novel will be a revelation. It is also an unsparing portrait of extreme poverty and anxious wealth, and the violence that arises out of the gulf between them. Supratik, one of the third generation of the Ghosh family living under the same roof, is drawn to political activism and abandons the life of the household in Calcutta, leaving behind only a note. His involvement in the Naxalite uprising leads him to the countryside, where he experiences the back-breaking toil of the workers who cultivate rice in a series of scenes that are realised with extraordinary clarity. Back home, the fortunes of the Ghosh family hang in the balance as the patriarch falls ill and siblings and their spouses jostle for favour, all cared for devotedly by their loyal servant Madan; their struggles move towards a devastating climax that shows how the pursuit of ideals can exact a terrible cost.

This is a novel with both sweep and focus, and a sense both of the huge shifts that drive social change and the small, sharp details in which change becomes apparent. All of human life is here: poverty, hunger, lust, fear, love, hope, despair, torture, imprisonment and freedom. Some scenes make for brutally painful reading; it is all brilliantly observed, and undoubtedly the work of a master storyteller. You’d need to set aside some serious time for this novel, but it will leave you with a profound sense of the scale of human experience. There’s a challenge laid down!

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

Enquire at your local public library. Check if this impressive new fiction is in stock by consulting the online catalogue at  Home | South Lanarkshire Libraries (

528 pages in Chatto & Windus

First published 22 May 2014

ISBN 978-0701186296

Neel Mukherjee

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