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Scenes from Early Life [Hardcover]

Philip Hensher
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 April 2012

Winner of the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, this is the new novel from the author of ‘King of the Badgers’ and the Man Booker-shortlisted ‘The Northern Clemency’.

“At that time, there were children you weren't supposed to play with. You knew why. Their parents had been informers during the war. And it hadn't been long since you could have got into trouble for singing a song. My grandfather hid all his Bengali poetry in the cellar.

“I was a baby during the war. We stayed inside for months. All my aunts took turns in feeding me. I couldn't be heard to cry. You see, there were soldiers in the streets. They would have known what a crying baby meant. So I had to be kept silent. No, not everyone came out of the war alive.”

One family’s life, and a nation – Bangladesh – are uniquely created through conversation, sacrifice, songs, bonds, blood, bravery and jokes. Narrated by a young boy born into a savage civil war, ‘Scenes from Early Life’ is a heartbreaking, funny and gripping novel by one of our finest writers.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (12 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007433700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007433704
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Hensher has written nine novels, including The Mulberry Empire, the Booker-shortlisted The Northern Clemency, King of the Badgers, and Scenes from Early Life, which won the Ondaatje Prize in 2012. He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Bath Spa and lives in South London and Geneva.

Product Description


‘An unostentatious tour de force, combining a tender and richly affectionate family memoir with a vividly evoked portrait of town and country life and the story of the birth of a nation. It is full of surprises’ Margaret Drabble

‘Beautifully packed with detail … does for Bangladesh what Salman Rushdie did for India with Midnight’s Children … It is a remarkable re-creation of a land that most of us know little about’ Sunday Times

‘This is his most purely pleasurable novel to date’ Daily Mail

‘Highly impressive … for all Hensher's accomplished ventriloquism – his ability to inhabit the voice of a Muslim child and a history teacher at the same time – his own voice is not lost … heart-breaking’ Guardian

‘A deeply interesting book … The joins are seamless … It is inventive, clever and loving; a Booker candidate, I would have thought.’ Spectator

‘…this delightful book shows for the first time what Hensher has largely concealed in the past: his heart’ Amanda Craig, Independent on Sunday

‘…a remarkable piece of ventriloquism … Hensher proves himself a literary god of small things’ Financial Times

‘Hensher has created a greater thing than just a record of childhood, or war. It probably isn’t Zaved’s story any more, but it’s great just the same” The Observer

About the Author

Philip Hensher is a columnist for the Independent, arts critic for the Spectator and a Granta Best of Young British novelist. He has written seven novels, including The Mulberry Empire and the Booker-shortlisted The Northern Clemency, and one collection of short stories. He lives in South London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 12 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was reading some books from the Guardian 2012 recommended list to choose one for my book club in Canada and this was the one that stood out. I enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It is a jewel. The narrator is the young son in a Bengal family, large, wealthy, cultured, educated. He brings to life the feelings and incidents in his young life, and affection and quirks of numerous aunts, and grandfather, as well as the foods he loves, which I plan to serve.
The life of this very erudite area of India is described, Dickens-like. The Muslim religion is practiced in the same relatively unimportant way many so many so called Christians practice theirs, and religion is unimportant in this family when it comes to relationships. Things take a dramatic turn however when Pakistan intervenes to make this this area, East Pakistan, devout, leading to the violent separation of east and West, and creation of Bangladesh. Highly recommended, and an insight into the culture of the Bangladesh upper or middle class.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful + 20 stars 14 April 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've really enjoyed Mr Hensher's last 2 books (not read the previous ones) and on the strength of those pre-ordered this in hardback with no idea what it was about. 'Scenes from early life' predisposed me to thinking it would be a collection of short stories especially following a novel a couple? of months ago but this a full bodied novel of exceptional quality. Mr Hensher writes of the everyday no-one else talks about in beautiful, brave detail. This added with compelling, within a lifetime, recent historical upheaval, mesmerising family life and acutely, yet not down your throat, observations make this a brilliant novel.

I don't read reviews before reading a book or writing a review but was amused to read back on the reviews of King of the Badgers. Mr Hensher seems to be an author people love or hate to read. I am just in admiration of how exceptionally written his books are and that they're so different - a cutting satire last time and and absolutely fantastic warm, compelling tale of the birth of Bangladesh this time. Mr Hensher writes about the everyday no-one else is writing about, yet provokes an extreme reaction. I think that's perhaps the mark of a great writer...

O.k. why I loved it and added 20 stars on. It reminded me of my favourite author - Amy Tan and the historical yet completely relevant way of telling a story of generations of a family. Anyone concerned with the 'sneering' and presumed heartless portrayal of characters in 'King of the Badgers' - it was meant to be a satire?! will be pleased to know this is a warm, beautifully told story of family ties, disagreements and feuds with resonating historical significance.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After hearing about this book on the radio I purchased a second hand copy from Amazon marketplace in late December. I am a slow reader but managed to finish this in six sittings over a three week period. That should tell me something about the sheer readability of the book, but I am afraid I was far more interested in the content and background to this book rather than the narrative. The latter left me frustrated.

What the 20 star reviewer finds so attractive about the book left me cold. The repetitive nature of storytelling does not appeal to me. There is too much of the unnecessary detail and there were paragraphs I had to skip through in sheer frustration as another description of the tamarind plant would reduce me to tears.

Some of the characters are well developed but some are just left to rot away without any explanation. The two musicians who weave in and out of the story are strangely left alone in the end with no explanation about what happened to Altaf between Amit's departure to India and then subsequent return a few years later. He was helping out during the war by carrying ammunition to the freedom fighters but is his lack of activity after the way a metaphor for the lack of any real progress in Bangladesh during those years? I also noticed some minor continuity errors that were frustrating.

I know the story of the birth of Bangladesh intimately. This alone made me want to read the book and it still makes me want to recommend it to the general reader. The novel is a little loose for my taste. A tightly wound tale consisting of 257 rather than 307 pages could have made this a real page turner for those who know little about 1971 and the political events leading up to that war of liberation.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another hit from Hensher 22 July 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
i thoroughly enjoyed this book, written with colour and affection. All the characters are as ever with this author, completely alive. Missing star because of some narrative gaps - inevitable that his source would not know everything, but I wanted to know!
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm Hensher 28 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hensher's Scenes from Early Life is his warmest book yet. A moving portrait of a family in a turbulent world.
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