The Lives of Others
It’s not beyond the realms of reasonableness, when sitting down to a tale of over 500 pages, to prepare to settle into a tale of depth, complexity and expansiveness. But before you do so with this book, bookmark the family tree in the fly pages; you will need it throughout; I certainly did.
A simple tale of three generations of family, all living under one roof. But not a simple tale at all; there is scheming, there are secrets, and there is a mix of lifestyles, both traditional and contemporary and finally there is a time span that moves from the time just after the World War Two to the 1970’s. Oh, and add blame into the mix too!
The story shifts in your hands. Seamlessly, it moves between each micro family, telling us of the trials and tribulations of each. Some appear to run with an iron rod by the man of the family, but the reality shows that quietly, the women rule their husbands, parents, in-laws and, of course, the servants. The timeline will also move without any jarring of the brain. When we are transported back to the origins of the family and their history, it is a logical time to do so and relevant rather than just being a page filler.
And then, right in the middle, comes the contra tale. We are taken, still in a seamless fashion to another world, another aspect of Bengal life that is likely to strike a chord with everyone who has witnessed or has knowledge of the struggle of the poorest to better their lot. So, now the story is moving between family, history, and now ideology. As the story progresses to its tumbling somewhat inevitable conclusion, the real character of each of the protagonists comes to the fore, given all manner of emotion when they reach the point where we leave them by the author, but offering no surprise to the reader. I don’t mean that the end has been given away too early, the characters are so under your skin by the end that there seems to be only one logical outcome for each of them; the sign of good writing.
I didn’t like any one of the characters, if fact I could quite happily punch some of them on the nose; some for being ugly in character, some for their naivety. Some, I wanted to shake, to rouse from their apathy. Others I just didn’t understand. But that, I think, was the whole point of the book. I have been transported into a whole way of life that is a world apart from the western world, where life was such a more comfortable place to be. This is not a tale where we are asked to suspend disbelief, more on an insight into a world where we would not necessarily like to be.
Would I read this book again? Probably not. Not because it’s badly written, it is very well written, and not because of its tone; it does have a ‘Pandora’s Box’ feel to it, but because I simply didn’t enjoy having to endure the indignities and pain that this very clever book dragged me into. The only way I can think to remove myself from those difficult times was to turn the last page. Be prepared!