January 16, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Amitav Ghosh reviews Neel Mukherjee’s novel, The Lives of Others

1 min read

the-lives-of-othersThe Lives of Others is an impassioned, dystopic, despairing book: its darkness is relieved by only two glimmers of light.

One is the story of a boy called Sona, Supratik’s cousin, who turns out to be a mathematical genius, ‘the next Ramanujan’. His abilities are such that Stanford University whisks him away from India at the age of 15; he eventually goes on to win the Fields Medal for his work in number theory.

The boy-genius serves as a resolution of the great paradox of middle-class Bengali life: that despite the dysfunction, deprivation and repression, Calcutta does, against all the odds, somehow produce people of unusual talent and ability (such as Neel himself). But in Neel’s portrayal these people owe their achievements solely to their own gifts: Sona’s relatives have nothing to do with his mathematical abilities; he is a freak, a singularity, a flash in the pan.

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