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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Two Lives

Two Lives - Vikram Seth 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.