Two Lives by Vikram Seth – Book Review

Two Lives

I have done a lot of reading lately and so you will see a lot of book reviews. I love to spend time at the book shops especially while I’m at the airport and I always end up buying a new book. On my way to Mumbai last month I bought ‘Two Lives’ by Vikram Seth. This was my first book by Vikram Seth so I was not expecting anything.

The book is about Vikram Seth’s great uncle (his maternal grandfather’s younger brother) Shanti Behari Seth and his great aunt Henny, a German Jew. Both were married for 38 years and lived in suburbs of London.

The book starts with how Vikram meets his great aunt and uncle at the age of 17 and how he came to be their son that they never had. After his great aunts death he went back to spend some time with his great uncle and he discovers a few letters which gave the shape to this memoir.

This very ordinary couple had a very extraordinary life. Shanti at a very early age went to Europe to study dentistry. One of the several lodgings that he stayed at while he was at Germany was Mrs. Caro, whose elder daughter Henny was not happy with this arrangement. Henny was supposed to be engaged to a boy called Hans.

As Hitler entered the scene all had to change for the Jews of Germany. Shanti joined the Army Dental Corps in the British army and Henny moved to London. Both Henny & Shanti stayed in touch through letters. In his tenure with the British army Shanti lost his right hand and had to leave army. He took up a research job and slowly also started practicing Dentistry at home.

Shannti & Henny finally got married in 1951. The story would not have been interesting if Vikram had not found an old box full of Henny’s letters and other details which told Henny’s side of the story.

Some interesting parts of Henny’s story is how she dealt with her old German friends post the war and how she was thankful of them to have taken care of her mother and sister.

Somewhere around two third of the book, the story loses the narrative and I felt that there was way too much added about history. However, the final pages get more interesting as it talks about the last years of Shanti and hhow he changes his will.

Vikram during the entire book felt that he had betrayed his uncle and aunt by making their lives public. I feel such stories should be told to the world. They did not have children but they were very lucky to have a great nephew who told their story to the world and keep them living forever through the book “Two Lives”

Love the book and would recommend to all!!!

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