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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2013
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 November 2014
Crafted from stories told him by his Bangladeshi partner, Mr Hensher has written an absolutely beautiful work that takes the reader into 1970s 'East Pakistan', on the verge of proclaiming independence. After partition, 'these two new countries - India and Pakistan, East and West - they looked on the map like a broad-shouldered ape with two coconuts, one on its right shoulder, one under its left armpit.' But despite their both being Moslem areas, Bangladesh retained a strong affinity with Hindu literature, its native Bengali tongue, a more moderate take on religion. And as troops were sent in from Pakistan to enforce a more fundamentalist lifestyle, terrible violence and terror ensues...

I loved the way that the author would repeat some events - it's an unusual style of writing but it adds to the impact of the narrative. I definitely want to read more of Mr Hensher's work.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
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. As an educational numpty who stopped studying history in favour of geography aged 13 as her choice was between a harridan, history teacher who watched soaps, occasionally interpersed with Wimbledon, on a portable tv with aerial beneath her desk or a young floppy haired geography teacher I've actually leaned something about world history I didn't know before. I never even got as far as Churchill but loved the child in the story was pet named ater him because of his tendency to bawl in childhood. And even if I'd known about it, the familial recollection of everyday life meeting war is essential reading.

I love the layers of it. The repetition of story telling which takes shape and etches the history of the family on the memories of the younger generations. The names which are as good as Dickens. The observations of people who are reserved in what they say in case inexplicably it gets back to the ears of others. The beautiful musicians and the respect and honesty. The father who only needs to raise his voice in times of extreme need to make a point x100 in the story. The dusty, river filled journeys where no one cries 'are we nearly there yet', the war and horror of having a tank pointed at your window and having to stifle the cries of babies lest they let the soldiers know young women are in the house.

There is a connection with the last book - a short shocking chapter which in this case raises a tear and connects to the story in musical and resistance terms. The Sheffield of 'The Northern Clememcy' also plays a part.

Fantastic. I've yet to read a better UK author.

If you like reading beautifully written, carefully observed and shocking books about the everyday then I also highly recommend The Barbarian Nurseries or HOUSE OF SKIN PRIZE-WINNING STORIES
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2013
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. The slow pace of the narrative makes the reader lose sight of the important backdrop of the birth of a nation. This apparent slow could well be part of the intended technique that Hensher felt best to utilise for his storytelling, but I am left here with a lingering that the little boy narrator would prefer to have the war take centre stage. It is here where the reader needs to decide if they are reading a novel or an autobiographical account. For me this question was all too important as I wanted a bit of both. The former left me dissatisfied for the lack of detail and the latter left me frustrated because the pace of the narrative is erratic.

I have not read any other books by Philip Hensher. This book would not dissuade me from reading his other books.
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on 25 May 2015
I didn’t enjoy this as much as Hensher’s novels, probably because I read it on a long train journey full of distractions.

That being said, the descriptions are vivid, as one expects from his work, and a brutal rape scene stands out, as does the subsequent killing of a baby by soldiers.

The islamicisation of a school curriculum with a change of deputy head reminds me of the way the Nazis used education to indoctrinate.

A curfew made it difficult to queue for and buy food.

The black and white photos capture the atmosphere well.
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on 23 March 2015
I enjoyed this, and learned a lot about a lifestyle and culture far from my own. It motivated me to read a bit more about the history of Bangladesh, and the characters engaged me and drew me in.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2013
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
on 28 January 2013
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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