Two Lives begins with a commonplace scenario — studious Indian boy travels to Britain to advance his education — but quickly turns into something extraordinary: a loving, meticulously researched biography of the London relatives who took him in. Vikram Seth became fascinated by the relationship between his effusive uncle Shanti, an Indian-born dentist, and Shanti’s aloof, enigmatic wife, Henny, a German Jew he’d met in Berlin in the 1930s. Seth recorded interviews with Shanti before his uncle’s 1998 death, but his most gripping material comes from Henny’s correspondence with German friends — some loyal, others treacherous — during and after World War II. Seth’s 503-page doorstopper isn’t for everyone. But readers who get a thrill out of seeing a thoughtful, engrossing narrative teased out of seemingly ordinary lives will find this remarkable book offers rich rewards.
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