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Scenes from Early Life by Philip Hensher

Scenes from Early Life

by Philip Hensher

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"This is not going to last forever. Perhaps only a few years.", November 29, 2014

This review is from: Scenes from Early Life: A Novel (Hardcover)
Crafted from stories told him by his Bangladeshi partner, Mr Hensher has written an absolutely beautiful work that takes the reader into 1970s 'East Pakistan', on the verge of proclaiming independence. After partition, 'these two new countries - India and Pakistan, East and West - they looked on the map like a broad-shouldered ape with two coconuts, one on its right shoulder, one under its left armpit.' But despite their both being Moslem areas, Bangladesh retained a strong affinity with Hindu literature, its native Bengali tongue, a more moderate take on religion. And as troops were sent in from Pakistan to enforce a more fundamentalist lifestyle, terrible violence and terror ensues...

I loved the way that the author would repeat some events - it's an unusual style of writing but it adds to the impact of the narrative. I definitely want to read more of Mr Hensher's work. ( )
  starbox | Nov 29, 2014 |
Scenes From Early Life is a very appealing memoir recounted by a small boy and is descriptive of life - for the wealthy - during the 1970s in Bangladesh. However, it omitted important details of the time, which, for me, made the story seem somewhat callous.

Hensher mentions the discrimination between Bengalis and Pakistanis and briefly writes about the conflict that erupted at that time. However, there was no mention of the horrendous, heartbreaking news from Bangladesh that I remember hearing in the early 1970s. Reports of war, cyclones, floods, and famine that caused millions of deaths. It is to be assumed that this child of an affluent family was protected or too young to know much about it. I believe the omission was a sad lapse in compassion for all those who suffered so profoundly. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | May 26, 2013 |
Scenes from Early Life has been touted as a possible candidate for this year's Booker Prize longlist. It's an autobiographical novel about the author's husband, Zaved Mahmood, who was born in East Pakistan in 1970, a year before the war of independence that led to the creation of Bangladesh. The young Saadi is the book's narrator, and he lovingly details his family of middle class Bengalis, focusing mainly on his father and maternal grandfather, both successful lawyers in separate practices who are dedicated but stubbornly independent, his mother and her sisters, and his maternal uncle, a ne'er do well who brings shame and causes rifts in the otherwise close knit extended family, who live together in the large home of his maternal grandparents in Dacca (now Dhaka), the major city of East Pakistan.

Saadi also describes the effects of the liberation war on his relatives and their neighbors. The conflict that led to the war began when the politically dominant West Pakistanis forcefully imposed their language and religious beliefs upon their eastern neighbors in the 1960s. A state of crisis was reached in early 1971, when the party of Bengali leader Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, referred to as Shiekh Mujib in the book, won a majority of the vote in Pakistan's first general election. The standing president of the country refused to permit Shiekh Mujib's party to form a government, and the Pakistani Army detained him and brutally suppressed his supporters in their homes and in the streets.

Despite the violence that surrounds them, Saadi's family remains largely intact, though strained by the disagreement between his father and his uncle. The novel shines brightest in its descriptions of Saadi's daily life and the relationships of the members of his family and those who come into their lives, particularly the musicians Amit and Altaf.

Scenes from Early Life, written with the help of Zaved Mahmood and his family, is a beautifully written and interesting glimpse into the life of a young child in an ordinary family touched but not destroyed by war. Hensher's ability to capture the language and feel of Bengali culture is very impressive, and indicative of the amount of work he put in to get the story right. I'll give it 4 stars, and I think it deserves a place on this year's Booker longlist. ( )
7 vote kidzdoc | Jun 26, 2012 |
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SCENES FROM EARLY LIFE is the story of one upper-middle-class Bengali family, told in the form of a memoir, narrated by Zaved. It is an autobiography, a novel and, in part, a history of one of the most ferocious of twentieth-century civil wars.

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