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Two Lives Hardcover – 12 Sep 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Two Lives
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 503 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1st edition (12 Sept. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316727741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316727747
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,029,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

This is an accomplished and profoundly moving work (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

Written as an act of love and duty it is a testament to his modesty and familial affection. (SUNDAT TIMES)

A fascinating and honest read. (TRIBUNE)

Seth is a thorough biographer, but his considerable narrative skill is as evident here as it is in his fiction... One of the beauties of TWO LIVES is that it transcends its subject matter, becoming a celebration of endurance, a recognition of all lives pun (SUNDAY BUSINESS POST)

Book Description

*A story of love and survival amidst the great events of the twentieth century.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary memoir of the lives of two quite ordinary people: Vikram Seth's great aunt Henny,a German Jewess, and great uncle Shanti, an Indian Hindi. I loved A Suitable Boy so it was wonderful to read the story of this great author's upbringing and inspiration. Henny is trying to find out what happened to her family during the war - Seth uses all her long-forgotten letters to document this unbearably poignant tale. Two Lives is a really fantastic book: somehow it manages to entwine strands of India, Third Reich and Second World War, Auschwitz and the Holocaust, Israel and Palestine, post-war Germany and 1970s Britain. Yet, despite such a complex and rich background, the two main characters come vividly to life, particuarly because their letters and direct quotations are used liberally throughout. This way, we become intimately involved in them and their lives. I can't criticise this book - I thought it was absolutely incredible and so well told. I'd recommend it every time.
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Format: Paperback
Vikram Seth turns the narrative skills so evident in "A Suitable Boy" on his own family, and the result is this compelling and engaging biography. His Indian great-uncle and German Jewish great-aunt lived through a turbulent period in the history of Europe and the world, and Seth manages to make the large-scale elements - such as the battle of Monte Cassino, the fate of the Jews in Berlin and the wider Reich - and the personal details of Shanti and Henny's own stories - his career as a dentist, her correspondence with her German friends, their marriage - equally vivid. The stories are not sentimentalised, either - while Seth's great affection for Shanti and Henny is obvious, he presents the reader with a remarkably clear-eyed view of their flaws and failings as well. The whole thing presents a fresh look at a much-chronicled era.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting sweep of experiences - India, England and Germany. Section about concentration camp harrowing as was the desperate poverty in post-war Germany. Fine, sensitive writing
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an exceptional account of the lives of Shanti and Henny Seth, the author's great uncle and aunt. The book starts with Vikram Seth going to live with Shanti and Henny when he is seventeen. We are then given a wonderful insight into the lives of these two fascinating people, both born in 1908 - one in India, and one in Germany, one a Hindu, and one a Jew. It amazed me how many letters, and other documents had survived, and Vikram Seth was able to reproduce for us - and so we hear from Henny and Shanti themselves - especially Shanti - as he had given his great nephew eleven long interviews - and we have many incidents described for us in his own words. The part of the book which was most disturbing, was of course, the section about Henny and her family, and what happened to them after Henny managed to get to England just weeks before the outbreak of war in 1939. I found myself shaking my head and muttering over and over " how could people allow..." and so on - all the things we think we know about that period of Europen history is brought into stark reality.

Shanti and Henny have become as real to me, as any of my own relatives, in telling us about them Vikram Seth has done a wonderful job. He has written about these two lives, with affection, and great love, but also with real truth.
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By Anne TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Mar. 2017
Format: Paperback
I found this an absolutely compelling read about the author's uncle and his wife.

Shanti came from India to Germany to train as a dentist where he met Henny, a young Jewish woman. Eventually Shanti went on to London to work and eventually Henny escaped from Germany too and the pair married and made a life together in Britain. The author stayed with them when he studied in Britain and so he tells their historical stories as well as explaining how they were when he knew them. The other part of the story is Shanti's family stories and how this affected him in Britain and Henny's family and friends and what happened to them during the war in Germany. The author does flit around from one aspect of the book to another but I never felt confused.

The story is compelling and the author tells it with real affection for his relatives. He does not, however, hide their faults or even his own so the people about whom he is writing feel very real. I found Henny's life as a German refugee and Jew during the 1930s and afterwards fascinating especially her experiences in finding out what had happened to her family and friends as well as having to deal with people whose war time activities were dubious. I was surprised to find that Shanti's story and his struggles to succeed as a foreign dentist especially after he lost an arm in the war was also as gripping. The parts where the author makes an appearance were less satisfying but they did frame the story well and show what had happened in the long run.

I do enjoy a family memoir and this is an exceptional one told with real story telling skill.
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Format: Paperback
It would be near impossible not to be moved by this remarkable double memoir. Seth transforms his seemingly-ordinary aunt and uncle as he examines their lives as well as their own - and the twentieth century's - triumphs and tragedies. For good measure, we also get welcome insights into the life and style of the masterful author himself. That he has reserved his finest prose for them reinforces the strength of his relationship with his relatives, both already in their sixties when he really got to know them.

As with any memoir the narrative is interrupted by photographs. It is revealing that, by the time the last such section is encountered, the reader feels that he is leafing the pages of his own family album so familiar are the main characters.

"Two Lives" is a great way of demonstrating that a biography need not have a celebrity as its subject in order to be interesting.
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