Vikram Seth’s TWO LIVES: study now on-line

those interested in Vikram Seth can find my essay on TWO LIVES, his
non-fictional work of 2005. This text is entitled: "The multicultural in
Vikram Seth’s TWO LIVES: ‘history writ little’ or global protagonism?"; it
is a longer version of an essay published as: "Vikram Seth’s TWO LIVES A
Literature of Global Protagonism", in The Expatriate Indian Writing in
English, vol. 1, eds. T. Vinoda and P. Shailaja, New Delhi: Prestige Books,
2006, pp. 171-183 (for which book, see this blog, entry for 21 May 2006).
I examine Seth’s book from a number of different viewpoints, including
genre problematics and documentation ethics. TWO LIVES
recounts the true histories – at first parallel, later intertwined – of
Vikram Seth’s great-uncle Shanti Seth (or ‘Shanti Uncle’) (1908-1998) and
his German-Jewish wife Hennerle Caro (‘Aunty Henny’) (1908-1989). Shanti is
sent by his family to study dentistry in Berlin in the early 1930s. He
lodges with the Caro family, where he makes the acquaintance of his future
spouse. The perspective darkens with the rise of Nazism: Shanti graduates
in dentistry but is barred from practising as a foreigner, and relocates to
England, where he requalifies. Indian but still a British subject, he
serves in World War II and loses his right forearm at the battle of Monte
Cassino in Italy. Meanwhile, Henny manages to get out of Germany and
settles in London, where Shanti is the only person she knows. Her mother
and sister perish in the Shoah. Hers is the arduous task of rebuilding a
shattered life, with the friendship and, finally, the married companionship
of Shanti, who himself heroically overcomes his disability and practises
for years as a much-respected dentist. Neither thinks of returning ‘home’,
despite Indian independence and West Germany’s rise from the ashes: the
couple resolutely make their life in England. In 1969, they offer a home
base to Vikram, Shanti’s great-nephew from Calcutta , sent as a schoolboy
to England. Years later and now a famous writer, Vikram returns to London
and, staying once more with the now-widowed Shanti Uncle, discovers Henny’s
papers in a trunk in the attic, and conceives the idea of turning their two
lives into a book.

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