Dos vidas

ISBN: 8433971085
ISBN 13: 9788433971081
By: Vikram Seth

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About this book

«Cuando tenía diecisiete años me fui a vivir a Inglaterra con mis tíos abuelos. Él era de origen indio, y ella alemana. Los dos tenían sesenta años. Yo apenas los conocía.» Así comienza el nuevo y apasionante libro de Vikram Seth. No hay nada inventado, ya que el título hace referencia a dos seres que dejaron una profunda huella en el autor: Shanti y Henny. El primero, nacido en la India y estudiante de odontología en el Berlín de 1931, pierde un brazo en la batalla de Monte Cassino. En Berlín se cruza con Henny, una judía alemana que se verá obligada a abandonar el país, con el remordimiento añadido de dejar atrás a su madre y a su hermana, que acabarán muriendo en Auschwitz. Con ella iniciará una tortuosa relación que desembocará en boda en Londres. Allí es donde Vikram Seth los conocerá en 1969, compartirá sus vidas presentes y descubrirá las circunstancias de sus vidas pasadas, con todas las grandezas y miserias de quienes se han enfrentado al horror y han sobrevivido.

Reader's Thoughts


This is a very memorable book. It is about the author's indian uncle and his wife, a jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany. These two fine people, already close friends, are compelled into marriage, not because of star-crossed love but because of the realities of the war and its powerful tragedy. It is a testament to the love and devotion between these two people who are forever dear to each other, and to the difficulties and immense pains and tragedies of the war that consumed and defined their lives. This book came my way from the bookshelves of my niece's husband. Judah was an Iraqi Jew who had grown up in Bombay, so the power of the book perhaps had a double impact on me.... not just a memoir about 2 people, but about people to whose lives I could somehow relate, particularly in light of the reality that Judah had just died of breast cancer, something that brought the tragedy of war (with whatever foe) closer to home.


In this exploration of war, culture clashes, interracial marriage, the nature of love, aging, and lots more, Vikram Seth also leaks information about his own life and personality to eager fans like me. Although there's certainly not enough to call it an autobiography, I feel like I know him better -- enough to guess that statement would make uncomfortable a shy and slightly reclusive person like him.If I hadn't been such a fan of the author, however, I'm not sure the presentation of the characters and the narrative would have been enough to keep me engaged. There's an ambivalent ending in this book that could have been used to good effect. Although there were hints of it, they were too subtle to really depict the conflict in the author.The psychological pushes and pulls among the countering viewpoints of the subjects explored in the book are engaging in their own right, but perhaps not clearly encapsulated enough? I think this book could have used a bit more editing and shaping. But still an interesting read, and a necessity for anyone who holds "A Suitable Boy" as one of their favorite books -- you'll recognize plenty.


Highly recommended for everybody who enjoyed A Suitable Boy. Vikram Seth writes wonderfully; you can almost imagine he is in the room, telling you the story himself.


I'm pleased to report that notwithstanding my compulsion to complete things I've begun, and the fine writing of the loving nephew who profiles his aunt and uncle in the book, I returned it to the bookshelf about a quarter of the way through. I don't know how it happened that I grabbed this book right after finishing Angle of Repose, which is another painstaking retrospective parsing of a relationship that spanned decades. While Angle of Repose posed a challenge to my stick-to-it-iveness, I did complete it, and was glad when it finally "came together" a bit at the end, that I did. But the slog predisposed me to cut my losses early with this one. Sorry, Vik.


Two Lives is a homage to two people(Shanti and Henny) and to a whole generation which despite being separated from us by mere decades, now seems to exist in a different world. The author combines a memoir of his own years with a biography of his aunt and uncle, who helped raise him in London as a teenager.I was very much impressed by the great care Seth takes in exploring even minor aspects of their character and story. But i felt that the second half of the book which deals with aunty henny and shanti uncle's life in the later years far less interesting or intriguing because I know the character's so well by this point that I knew beforehand how they are going to react to situations and it was a struggle to read just to get a sense of ending. Reading Two Lives was not simple and it wasnt straightforward. The story of Henny has too many characters, and these come in and go rather quickly. Perhaps the idea was to emphasize the events rather than personalities. And in a long middle section, Seth presents lengthy letters with little commentary. Much of this material adds little to the picture he is presenting and it was challenging to keep track of the different people related with these letters.Still, Seth's clear prose and deft understanding of human lives set against the backdrop of history is fascinating and one can have a glimpse into the minds of Germans after the war. Seth doesn't make Shanti or Henny into just heroic survivors of various tragedies but he provides snapshots of their successes and failings, of their habits, of the complexity of relationship and marriage, and of their painful approach to death.

Doris Cook

not what I was expecting but a lot more pondering of circumstances and what they lead to in the ling term.


Disappointing memoir of an Uncle (Indian) and Aunt (Jewish German), with whom Seth lived for a while.The early part of the book, Seth's own story, runs quite well, but the book then gets evermore confusing and disparate - ranging from long and boring accounts of dental practice and equipment to unreadably painful accounts of the deaths the aunt's sister, mother and friends must have suffered in the Holocaust...Later sections deal variously with her post-war correspondence with old friends - some revealed to be not the friends she had hoped - and later dealings with the complex Indian family relationships.The last few pages of the book see a return, for me, to Seth's most sensitive writing - '..I consider the word (lezikaron - the importance of looking forward as well as remembering the past)in the context of an evil century past and a still more dangerous one to come. May we not be as foolish as we are almost bound to be. If we cannot eschew hatred, at least let eschew group hatred'


This book came highly recommended and I was not disappointed at all. It was honest in a way that some true stories often are not. So much so that I swayed from genuine like/dislike of the two characters several times. The period of time covered by the book and lived through by the main protagonists was one of such fundamental change partly driven by the war that they each suffered through, Henny more than Shanti I believe but like so many others. Yet, I never felt this was just a litany of historic facts or events but a thoroughly moving insight into the lives of two people who although ordinary in some respects were not perhaps the norm in all respects. It was a privilege to be able to read such a personal story.


I'm not sure what Seth intended with this book, and that absence at its heart is somehow fascinating rather than annoying. On the surface it is the backstory of two relatives he got to know as a teenager, but at times it almost becomes Seth's own story of finding a place as a foreigner in the world, and by the end I felt I was reading a meditation on forgiveness. The most gripping part for me was the post-war correspondence between his Aunt Henny(a German Jew who escaped to England in the 1930s)and her friends back in Germany. What behavior is/was justifiable, and how can choices be explained to those who weren't there (or who were there and feel choice to be a luxury enjoyed only by those who had escaped)? What was and is the right thing to do? If this is a Holocaust novel, which in some ways it is, it is one of the most complex and therefore powerful I have read. But it is other things at the same time, a bit like life, really.

Ashutosh Gupta

Vikram Seth wanted to name this book Two and a half Lives...This book is about his relationship with his Uncle(Indian) and Aunt(German). Vikram Seth lived with them during his adolescent and youth and hence he was deeply influenced by them. Good insight into German culture and growing up years of Vikram Seth...

Clif Hostetler

I was expecting a love story. But this book is better described as a story of two people making the best of their lives following the upheaval of the WWII and the holocaust. The author first explains why the couple Shanti and Henny, his great uncle and aunt, were important people in his life. Then he proceeds to tell their stories. His great-uncle Shanti, a native of India, attended school in Berlin in the early 30s and became part of a circle of friends centered around the family apartment where he boarded. The group included both Jewish and non-Jewish friends. Henny was the daughter of the Jewish family also living in the apartment. Then Hitler came to power, and we all know what happened after that. Both Shanti and Henny were able to leave Germany before the war at different times and by different routes. Shanti lost an arm during the war while serving as a surgeon with the British Army.The most heart-wrenching part of the book for me was the part containing Henny's correspondance with her German friends after the war trying to learn what had happened to her Mother and sister. It is an up-close and personal look at the sorrow and suffering repeated millions to times over during the holocaust. And, in addition to the anguish of learning about the fate of her family, Henny had to deal with her ambivalent feelings toward her non-Jewish friends. She even received a letter from her former German boyfriend, who had played the part of a good Nazi during the war, hinting at an interest in a continuing relationship. She also learns that her brother was able to flee to South American prior to the war but had squandered money that could have been used to get her mother and sister out of Germany. She was particularly disturbed to learn that the husband of one of her closest friends may have been a member of the Nazi SA.In England the only person Henny knew who shared any memories of her family and former life was Shanti. Shanti's life on the other hand was dramatically changed by the loss of his arm. So they found comfort in each other’s company. They eventually got married, but the slow deliberate pace of their courtship indicates little romantic passion.The author spends considerable time talking about world politics and the modern history of Germany and Israel. He also shares some details of settling Shanti's estate after his death. I question whether these parts of the book were needed.


I was very surprised by how quickly this book went by. It wasn't written in a particularly exciting way, nor did it make any effort to express an atmosphere or immerse you in the narrative (the author commented a lot on his approach as he went along), but there was still something touching about it. And it was definitely interesting to read all of the letters from the author's great-aunt (in-law), who was a German Jew who escaped to Britain in the late 30s, to her acquaintances in Germany at the end of WWII, in which she attempted to figure out which of her friends had been loyal to her mother and sister (who were killed in concentration camps) and which didn't do enough to prevent the tragedy from occuring. The book sets you up for a great love affair between the author's great uncle and his great aunt in-law, so in the end it's quite sad to discover that it was, for her at least, actually more a marriage of security and companionship than passion.


I liked the book very much inspite of some shortcomings in its structure. There were some pages which sounded a bit like a rough material or sketches and one may wish they were smoother in pure stylistic sense but all of this doesn`t diminish the least of the importance and deep meaning of the book. It`s a fascinating look into the lives of two ordinary but very decent people. It reveals the hidden beauty of their characters and the wonder of everyday chores. Vikram Seth writes with great psychological skill and desribes the relationship of his great uncle and aunt in a very honest,but at the same time,delicate way. I liked both characters,and it seems to me that the writer was secretly fascinated most by his aunt. For me the part of the book which tells Henny`s story,is the most wholesome and impressing part. It gives a very intimate view on Holocaust.It was interesting to see the Holocaust through the eyes of a non-European.I found the writer`s views well-balanced and profound.


Two Lives: A Memoir by Vikram SethThe Two Lives are those of the author's great uncle Shanti and great aunt Henny, who lived in Hendon when he knew them, but had met in Berlin before the Second World War. She was a Jewish native of Berlin. He was an Indian student of dentistry with connections in Britain.Seth describes his dealings with the couple as he became friends with them as their lodger when he was studying in England. But the book is principally an account of their own relationship, which Seth learns about through a series of interviews with his uncle and through the fortuitous discovery, late in the process of writing the book, of a suitcase of his aunt's correspondence with her circle of friends in Berlin during and after the war.While Seth concludes, meditatively, that great drama can be found behind the quiet facades of any suburban house, in fact, his aunt and uncle's lives were both, in different ways, dramatic and unusual.Her sister and mother died in concentration camps during the war. Seth's piecing together of that story is moving and powerful, as he is able to quote from the understated letters in which his aunt received heart-breaking fragments of news about her family's last days.His uncle served as a dentist in the British army, where he lost an arm in Italy. His struggle and eventual success in resuming his profession with only one arm is as heroic as any military exploit.I haven't read the book: instead I listened to the six CDs of the audio version, read by Seth himself, with a small cast of excellent actors playing the parts of his relations. Seth's own voice gives a unique depth to his story. Its melodies combine with his precise and restrained language to build a picture that is utterly engrossing.The book is open about its own creation: how Seth was persuaded to write it; how he felt about his relations at all stages of his life and their's; how his judgements were revised in the light of comments from his earliest readers; and how his admiration of his uncle was challenged by a decision he made about his will in the last months of his life.For me, the most fascinating part of the book was the detailed account of how his aunt picked up relations with her circle of German friends after the war. For each of them, a judgement had to be made: had they properly and full-heartedly opposed the Nazi regime, or had they simply made 'exceptions' of their Jewish friends? Sorting through what had happened and coming to a conclusion about who was a true friend and who would have to be dropped because of what had happened in the intervening years was a complex and difficult process.Seth gives a masterful summary of German culture and Germany's contribution to history - both positive and negative -, but admits that his study of the horrors of Nazism for the book poisoned his appreciation of the German language for years afterwards.Two Lives is more of a project than a book, though it is expertly written up. Its story is both personal and universal. I have listened to it twice because I found so much to admire, enjoy and learn. Nobody could hear it without being moved. I almost feel that I have acquired, in Seth, a much-loved family member.


This is great so far; a memoir of Seth's teenage years spent living in England with his German Aunt and Indian Uncle. After he chronicles the deaths of his Aunt and Uncle, he begins to research their past and discovers amazing stories. I'm just getting into the story of his Uncle Shanti's time in the military in India; I'm anticipating the story of his his Aunt Henny who was a Jew and fled Germany just before World War II. After reading about Vikram Seth's life as he became a writer and the circumstances surrounding the writing and publishing of his other books, I look forward to reading those after this one.

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