Two Lives (Vikram Seth, 2005)

6014463In 1969, Vikram Seth moved from India to London to study. He finds accommodation with his uncle Shanti and his German wife Henny, a Jewish woman. Both got to know each other during Shanti’s studies in Berlin in the 1930s. The relationship of his Uncle and Aunt, which was at first rather distant, gradually deviates into an intimate connection.

When Henny dies in the 80s, Vikram Seth stays with Shanti and through this encounter he decides to write a moving account of the great lives of these two ordinary people in a biography.

His approach involved detailed interviews with his uncle, investigation of other witnesses and his review of the letters and personal documents. He describes the life of Shantis and his family in India and how he ended up in London. He shows the difficulties the Jewish woman Henny dealt with under to Nazi Germany. She managed to flee to the United Kingdom six weeks before the start of the war.

Closely connected with the life of Shanti and Henny, the author skillfully digests and narrates the historical facts. Thus the biography created an impressive 20th-century landscape. Seth, however, did not confine himself to the listing of historical events alone, he analyzed and drew extremely interesting conclusions that enriched his book. The basis for this can only be drawn from an extremely meticulous research.

It was not always easy to find a way out in the wide circle of friends of Shanti and Henny, or to look into Indian family conditions immediately, because I sometimes saw the thread blur in the detailed stories of Vikram Seth.

With this biography he places the two on a pedestal. I was very impressed by this book, I have access to the lives of two completely strange people. While reading them, they became as familiar as friends. “Two Lives” is the most impressive biography I have read so far, perhaps because the life of famous artists or politicians was not described, but the focus was on “normal” fellow human beings.

I found the only copy of this book at Popular Bookstore along Tomas Morato and have read this book time and again. The author’s view of Germany’s role in the course of the last century is always worth revisiting. His thoughts continue to pull me into contemplation about the kind of world we live in today. Vikram Seth has written a heartrending true story of a friendship, a marriage, and a century. Weaving together the strands of two extraordinary lives,– Two Lives is both a history of a violent era seen through the eyes of two survivors and an intimate, unforgettable portrait of a complex, enduring love.

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth, Harper-Perennial 975 Php (Popular Bookstore), 544 pages

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