Two Lives

Rose Burkoff

Vikram Seth made a name for himself with the conventional epic A Suitable Boy, but most of his publishing ventures have been strange and surprising. Two Lives (McArthur & Company) is the non-fiction story of his great uncle Shanti and great aunt Henny. Shanti was born in India, studied dentistry in Germany and Scotland in the 1930s and lost an arm in World War II. His wife was a German Jew who escaped from Berlin in 1939 and lost her sister and mother to the Nazi concentration camps. Through these two characters, Seth examines much of the history of the twentieth century. Most compelling are Henny’s letters to friends in Germany after the war as she tracks down people who risked their lives to help her family, and others who dropped their Jewish friends to take advantage of their own Aryan status. Henny sorts through the aftermath of war in a substantial correspondence that is by turns stoic, fierce and full of passion.

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