Two Lives

by Vikram Seth | Biographies & Memoirs |
ISBN: 0349117985 Global Overview for this book
Registered by Heaven-Ali of Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on 1/6/2007
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14 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by Heaven-Ali from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Saturday, January 06, 2007
One from my wish list I couldn't resist buying I have registered it in case I decide to ring it.

Synopsis
TWO LIVES tells the remarkable story of Seth's great uncle and aunt. His great uncle Shanti left India for medical school in Berlin in the 1930s and lodged with a German Jewish family. In the household was a daughter, Henny, who urged her mother 'not to take the blackie'. But a friendship developed and each managed to leave Germany and found their way to Britain as the Nazis rose to power. Shanti joined the army and lost his right arm at the battle of Monte Cassino, while Henny (whose family were to die in the camps) made a life for herself in her adopted country. After the war they married and lived the emigre life in north London where Shanti, despite the loss of his arm, became a much-loved dentist. During his own adolescence in England, Vikram Seth lived with Shanti and Henny and came to know and love them deeply. His is the third life in this story of TWO LIVES. This is also a book about history, encompassing as it does many of the most significant themes and events in the 20th century, whose currents are reflected in the lives of Shanti, Henny and their family: from the Raj and the Indian freedom movement to the Third Reich, the Holocaust and British postwar society.

Journal Entry 2 by Heaven-Ali from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Monday, April 02, 2007
This is an exceptional account of the lives of Shanti and Henny Seth, the author's great uncle and aunt. The book starts with Vickram Seth going to live with Shanti and Henny when he is seventeen. We are then given a wonderful insight into the lives of these two fascinating people, both born in 1908 - one in India, and one in Germany, one a Hindu, and one a Jew. It amazed me how many letters, and other documents had survived, and Vikram Seth was able to reproduce for us - and so we hear from Henny and Shanti themselves - especially Shanti - as he had given his great nephew eleven long interviews - and we have many incidents described for us in his own words. The part of the book which was most disturbing, was of course, the section about Henny and her family, and what happened to them after Henny managed to get to England just weeks before the outbreak of war in 1939. I found myself shaking my head and muttering over and over " how could people allow..." and so on - all the things we think we know about that period of Europen history is brought into stark reality.
Shanti and Henny have become as real to me, as any of my own relatives, in telling us about them Vikram Seth has done a wonderful job. He has written about these two lives, with affection, and great love, but also with real truth.



ring: List of participants- not necessarily the final order

Nordie Birmingham England UK (int) -
Scotsbookie - Peebles Scotland UK (?)
Triggerfish - Edinburgh - Scotland - UK (int)-
Juliako - Birmingham England, UK (int)
LindyLouMac - Italy ( recieve from and send to Eur)
Iojima - France (anywhere) -
Bookmaniac70 - Bulgaria (Eur)
rapturina - Netherlands (Int. surface)
Ozone-nut - Yateley - England - UK (int) -
CaterinnaAnna - Coventry England UK
nickolacarter23 - Warwick - England - UK (UK)- skipped
meddyg - Tyne and wear - England - UK (?)
Cross-Patch - Leicester - UK (?)
Molekilby - Wales UK (anywhere)

Back to me Heaven-Ali



Journal Entry 3 by Heaven-Ali at to a bookcrosser in sent by mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases on Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Released 12 yrs ago (4/4/2007 UTC) at to a bookcrosser in sent by mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases

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on its way to Nordie

Journal Entry 4 by nordie from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Thursday, April 05, 2007
Yay! Got this in time for the long Easter weekend and a very long stint in the hairdressers on the weekend!

Thanks!

Journal Entry 5 by nordie from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Thursday, April 12, 2007
Have managed to complete this and will be passing on to scottsbookie.

Whilst you know you think you know about a period (yeah yeah, Hitler was nuts and the Nazis did bad stuff), it's only when you read stories like this that bring it to such a personal level and you realise exactly what one group of people did to another for no better reason than one thought they were better (or worse) than the other. You get to find out just how low and petty humans can get.

On the other hand, there is an up, and the loving companionship between Shanti Uncle and Auntie Henny during and after such a difficult period is lovely to read

Journal Entry 6 by nordie at By hand in Birmingham, West Midlands -- Controlled Releases on Thursday, April 12, 2007

Released 12 yrs ago (4/13/2007 UTC) at By hand in Birmingham, West Midlands -- Controlled Releases

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Off to scottsbookie

Journal Entry 7 by scotsbookie from Peebles, Scotland United Kingdom on Saturday, April 14, 2007
Arrived safely this morning, thank you nordie. #2 on TBR

Journal Entry 8 by scotsbookie from Peebles, Scotland United Kingdom on Wednesday, May 02, 2007
An exceptionally well written & readable account of the lives of the author's great uncle & aunt, interspersed with details about his & his family. Shanti uncle & Aunty Henny are both fascinating characters, Shanti is the one we get to know better because of the 11 interviews he gave Vikram but Henny comes over, through her letters mainly from friends, as a much loved & valuable friend. Via the letters pertaining to her mother & sister (who died in Nazi concentration camps) we learn not only of their fate but the different attitudes of their friends & the problems trying to get financial compensation from the West German government after the war.

Thank you for the chance to read the book Heaven-Ali. I have Triggerfish's details & I'll have it on its travels asap.


Journal Entry 9 by Triggerfish from Edinburgh, Scotland United Kingdom on Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Arrived today. Thank you.

Journal Entry 10 by Triggerfish from Edinburgh, Scotland United Kingdom on Saturday, May 12, 2007
This was a very moving and engrossing account of the lives of Seth's great uncle and aunt.
I thought Seth entwined the different parts of their stories in a very readable way. I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come.

Have PMed Juliako for address.

Journal Entry 11 by Triggerfish from Edinburgh, Scotland United Kingdom on Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Posted to Juliako today.

Journal Entry 12 by juliako from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Received from Triggerfish today - thank you.

It came with a great postcard see http://www.illusionsgallery.com/bride.html for the picture. I only noticed the angels and not the figure being carried at first.


Journal Entry 13 by juliako from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Monday, June 25, 2007
Excellent book! Seth's portrayal of his Uncle and Aunt is very well-written. They lived through extremely difficult times and his "warts and all" approach only serves to make you have even greater regard for them.

The other reviews regarding this book on this page are excellent and include most of what I would want to say - except to add that his mother and father aren't written about a great deal but you get a real sense that they have deeply caring and sensitive natures as indeed I suspect Vikram Seth himself does.

I have pm.ed LindyLouMacfor her address ready to send this to Italy.

Journal Entry 14 by LindyLouMac from Tywyn, Wales United Kingdom on Saturday, July 14, 2007
Postmarked July 3rd this arrived this morning in very tattered wrapping! Fortunately the book is OK no damage, thanks juliako for mailing to me.
From the previous reviews here it sounds like this is going to be a very interesting read, so thanks Heaven-ali for including me in the ring. I have one book ahead of this and at 500 pages it will take me awhile to read this one I think! It still has a long way to travel so I will endeavour not to take more than a few weeks.

Journal Entry 15 by LindyLouMac from Tywyn, Wales United Kingdom on Sunday, July 22, 2007
I have finished this already!
It is long at over 500 pages but I found I read it much quicker than I expected to as I was drawn into the lives of Shanti and Henny.

A very moving memoir about the author’s great-uncle Shanti and great-aunt Henny. He became very close to them after they welcomed him into their home, when as a seventeen year old he arrived in England to complete his education.
Through the detailed story of these ‘Two Lives’ we learn personal details about how some of the great events of the 20C had an effect on Shanti and Henny.
Vikram Seth decided to write this story of his Uncles enduring love for Henny, unfortunately after she had died. A chance finding of letters and photographs kept from her past enabled him to find out enough of her side of the story along with many interviews with Shanti in his latter years.

The details in this sensitively written biography will stay with you for a long time after reading.

I think the poem that the author dedicates to his uncle and aunt at the beginning of the book actually says it all beautifully so I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here.

TO SHANTI UNCLE AND AUNTY HENNY

Some words of yours to me suggested
How, through the fog of peace and war,
A pulse beat on, that, strained and tested,
No loss could mute, nor sorrow mar.
To trace this pulse through its confusions,
Illusions, allusions, elusions,
And limn its complex graph of love,
No skein of words is fine enough.
Does this half-filial endeavour
Hold half a chance of half-success –
Even to track your lives, much less
Not to let these recede for ever?
No, if I’d hoped to grasp the whole;
Yes, if some shard may touch the soul.

Released 12 yrs ago (8/1/2007 UTC) at by mail in To the next participant, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases

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En route to France

Journal Entry 17 by Iojima from Nyons, Rhône-Alpes France on Monday, August 06, 2007
Received, thank you. No.2 on TBR.

Journal Entry 18 by Iojima from Nyons, Rhône-Alpes France on Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The most remarkable things about this story, for me, is how unremarkable these people are, but through their letters and voices, they bring the dramatic times they lived in to life. This is also the first account I have ever read of someone escaping Germany and the Nazis and then resuming relations with those of her Christian friends who were still in Germany after the war. It gives a new perspective on the survivors. The book would have been improved editing out the author's irrelevant views on the Middle East, which disrupted the flow of the narrative, and if he had had more of a journalist's instincts when he interviewed his uncle. It also seemed bizarre that, in spite of his uncle's delusions and ill health toward the end, it took Seth a year after Shanti Uncle's death to realise that he was beginning to suffer dementia. Still, a fascinating read.

Next, to Bookmaniac70.

Journal Entry 19 by bookmaniac70 from София / Sofia, Sofiya Bulgaria on Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Book arrived in Sofia.Thanks for sending and the nice card,Iojima!:-)) I shall start reading immediately.

Journal Entry 20 by bookmaniac70 from София / Sofia, Sofiya Bulgaria on Sunday, September 30, 2007
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.

Thanks so much for introducing me to this unusual book! I have obtained already the address of rapturina and will put the book in the mail next week.

Journal Entry 21 by bookmaniac70 from София / Sofia, Sofiya Bulgaria on Monday, October 08, 2007
I have to apologise for being a bit late with mailing,as I had much work to do. The book went in the mail today to rapturins.

Released 11 yrs ago (10/8/2007 UTC) at to the next participant in sent by mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases

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Sent to The Netherlands.

Journal Entry 23 by rapturina from Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Saturday, October 13, 2007
It's here! Thanks for sending it, bookmaniac70!

I'm *really* looking forward to this book, it looks great and I'm even more curious after reading all the previous comments, but I have a few books ahead of this one, so it'll have to wait for a bit. I'm a quick reader though, so I'm sure I'll get to it fairly quickly. :D

Journal Entry 24 by rapturina from Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Despite its 500 pages, I zipped through this book in only three days, it was such a gripping story! I can think of a few things that are wrong with this book: the story is uneven, sometimes too much detail, sometimes not enough. I would've also liked to hear more about what happened after the war, how they faired during the 60s, 70s, 80s, etc... Not much is said about that, probably because he didn't have as much material about these times, but still. I would've found it interesting. Not much is said about Henny's youth either, probably for the same reason. Also, some of the parts of this book's narrative flow very well, whereas other parts seem a little incoherent and stilted. Plus, I thought the whole first part about the writer himself was perhaps rather redundant, it didn't really connect all that much to the rest of the story, apart from explaining his relation to this aunt & uncle. That could've done without the mention of all his books and such things though, as well as the last part where he goes on and on about the inheritance. I didn't really see how that added to the story, but that might just be me. :D

Still, despite my criticism, somehow the book really works. Having read it so quickly is a tell tale sign I was engrossed by the story, and now that I've finished it, it's amazing to think how such a story can possibly have interested me so much. Like someone else mentioned in a comment, Henny & Shanti aren't extraordinary people that have done extraordinary things, and neither did I even particularly like them. But their story so vividly brought to life a time in history, that it makes it hard to stop reading once you've really gotten into it. Especially with all the pictures included, it makes you realize these are *real* people and that all these things have really happened, and I think *that* is the biggest strength of this book. In that way it is much more convincing than any novel about a war hero, that might have been balanced a lot better than this one. I think this quote from the final chapter struck me the most, and I think best describes the quality of this book: "Behind every door on every ordinary street, in every hut in every ordinary village on this middling planet of a trivial star, such riches are to be found. The strange journeys we undertake on our earthly pilgrimage, the joy and suffering we taste or confer, the chance events that cleave us together or apart, what a complex trace they leave: so personal as to be almost incommunicable, so fugitive as to be almost irrevocable." So thank you, Heaven-Ali, for the chance to read this book!

I have Ozone-nut's address and will be sending this book on soon.

ETA: Sent on Nov. 3rd.

Journal Entry 25 by ozone-nut from Yelverton, Devon United Kingdom on Saturday, November 10, 2007
book has arrived safely - thanks! I'll squeeze it in somewhere near the top of the pile and report back shortly.

Journal Entry 26 by ozone-nut from Yelverton, Devon United Kingdom on Sunday, December 02, 2007
A fantastic book - concentrating both on the small detail of the two lives and on the wider picture of the history surrounding their lives. I've certainly never given much thought to the reality of living in Germany just after the second world war and it made fascinating and at times distressing reading.

I really enjoyed this - thanks for sharing.


Journal Entry 27 by Caterinaanna from Coventry, West Midlands United Kingdom on Friday, December 14, 2007
Arrived safely at work during my absence earlier this week.

Journal Entry 28 by Caterinaanna from Coventry, West Midlands United Kingdom on Saturday, December 29, 2007
Although I'm only just journalling this, it was read within days of recieving - including an almost all-nighter to finish it, on a school night too. I don't think I can add anything worthwhile to the previous journal entries for I agree with them all - criticisms as well as praise - but this is still one of the best books I've read this year. Thank you Heaven-Ali for sharing this.

nikolacarter23 has asked to be skipped in spite of the offer of coffee in Coventry so I have contacted meddyg for his address.

Released 11 yrs ago (12/31/2007 UTC) at Bookring in to another bookcrosser, By Post -- Controlled Releases

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On its way to meddyg

Journal Entry 30 by meddyg on Friday, January 18, 2008
Picked up eventually from the Post Chaos (sorry Office) as it wouldn't fit through my letterbox. Will pass onto whever is next on the list when read.

Journal Entry 31 by meddyg at Treorci, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Released 10 yrs ago (3/18/2009 UTC) at Treorci, Wales United Kingdom

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For a variety of reasons (it's a long story) didn't get around to reading this one, which. It's very rare for me not to read a book.

Sent onto Heaven-ali by post

Journal Entry 32 by Heaven-Ali from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Friday, March 20, 2009
Arrived back with me today - thanks for sending MeddyG will pass it on to the rest of the ring participants soon.

Journal Entry 33 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Monday, April 06, 2009
It's here. Thank you, Heaven-Ali.

Journal Entry 34 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A fascinating account of such unusual lives. I found it to be totally absorbing.

I shall put it into the post to Molekilby tomorrow.

Journal Entry 35 by molekilby from Brithdir, Wales United Kingdom on Saturday, May 16, 2009
Arrived in the week, thanks cross=patch for sending (a surprise!) and Heaven-Ali for sharing. I will get to it soon and will take it when I'm away next week.

Journal Entry 36 by molekilby from Brithdir, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, July 02, 2009
I finished this a month ago. I must admit I enjoyed it and found the meeting of cultures fascinating. It really was a gripping read.

I will return this soon ;-)

Journal Entry 37 by molekilby at on Thursday, July 02, 2009

Released 10 yrs ago (7/4/2009 UTC) at

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Look out for it, but let me know if you would rather I didn't bring it.

Journal Entry 38 by Heaven-Ali from Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Sunday, July 05, 2009
This has come home again, thanks to everyone for taking part.

Journal Entry 39 by Heaven-Ali at 3 Three's Coffee Lounge in Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom on Saturday, January 26, 2019

Released 7 mos ago (1/26/2019 UTC) at 3 Three's Coffee Lounge in Birmingham, West Midlands United Kingdom

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