I have a soft spot for Indian literature and so when I saw the phrase ‘Winner of India’s Premier Literary Prize, The Vodafone Crossword Award 2009’ on the back of this book I picked it up straight away.
A Life Apart is essentially a coming-of-age novel focusing on Ritwik, an Indian homosexual. The story begins in 1980s India with the death of Ritwik’s mother. I was treated to a vivid Indian atmosphere and an instant sense of empathy for Ritwik. Unfortunately everything went downhill after the first chapter, but there were enough interesting passages to keep me reading through the remaining 300 pages.
After the death of his mother Ritwik decides to leave India to study in England. All that wonderful Indian atmosphere was lost and I found myself reading the type of immigration tale that I have read countless times before. Ritwik then exercised his new-found freedom by having sex with numerous strangers. These graphic encounters held no interest for me and there were several points where I considered giving up on the book entirely. I was occasionally treated to flashbacks of Ritwik’s troubled childhood in India, but these were too brief for me. I wish the whole book had concentrated on these instead of his modern, British life.
Intertwined with this narrative was Ritwik’s attempts at fiction writing. This story-within-a-story was set in 1900 and followed Miss Gilby, an English woman teaching a Bengali family:
…the most Beautiful & Useful English Language & the ways of Ladies of your Progressive Nation.
This story was well researched and I learnt a few interesting facts about Colonial life, but the characters failed to connect with me and so overall this narrative didn’t leave much impression on me either.
A Life Apart is a beautifully written piece of literary fiction, but I felt it tried to combine too many elements, leaving me unable to develop an emotional attachment to the characters.
Recommended to those with a passion for immigration stories who have a high tolerance for graphic sex scenes.
Other bloggers seemed to enjoy it much more than I did:
A must read, a full ten out of ten from me. Savidge Reads
Mukherjee’s poetically sublime prose is a real beauty to behold… Rob Around Books