Two brothers, born in India before partition, come of political age in the 1960s. One brother becomes politically active, the other doesn’t, and their lives unfold in completely disparate ways. Tragedy is inevitable, and families struggle to readjust and heal. Some adjust better than others.
The word ‘Potentially’ should have preceded the publisher’s blurb of “Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate”, because the opportunities to create that kind of story were squandered. There was a rich substrate to mine: the struggles of the Bengali communist party, the reconciliation of politics with the realities of everyday family life, immigration and integration, grief and its effects, and the evolution of people as they grow from youth to middle age to their winters. None of these were explored; they were merely described.
The book spans over fifty years of the adults’ lives, yet fails to recognise that people change as they age. We are not the same in late middle age as we were in early adulthood. We mature, we acquire wisdom (of varying degrees, it’s true, some acquire a lot more than others), we gain insight into complex matters. This is the byproduct of enduring, surviving, aging. But Lahiri’s characters don’t evolve, so they don’t seem real; they remain static, dooming the reader to boredom.
This is a book of promise unfulfilled. It was the last of the Booker shortlist that I read, and it was the weakest.