Scenes from Early Life: A Novel
From the Man Booker-short-listed author of "The Northern Clemency," a family and a nation--Bangladesh--are forged through storytelling, conversation, jokes, feuds, blood, songs, bravery, and sacrifice In late 1970 a boy named Saadi is born into a large, defiantly Bengali family in eastern Pakistan. Months later the country splits in two, in what will become one of the most...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Faber & Faber
(first published January 1st 2012)
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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...more
Scenes From Early Life is based on the life of Philip Hensher's husband, and an affection for the characters permeates the narrative. That doesn't mean the writing suffers, however. Saadi, the protagonist, born just before the war that gave birth to Bangladesh, is the baby of his upper-class family, surrounded by aunties, brothers and sisters, cousins, servants, and guests in his lawyer grandfather's crowded but lively house. Much of this novel really is "scenes," poignant early memories from Sa...more
It's called a novel but the title feels more accurate - scenes from an early life - during the 1970 violent separation of Pakistan into Pakistan and Bangladesh. The author, Philip Hensher, is married to Zaved Mahmood, a Bengali who was born just as the war for independence was beginning. The novel is written as vignettes told by Saadi (representing Zaved) about his huge, extended family's experiences during that time period. Some vignettes are personal memories, some are family stories and some...more
Beautifully written memoir about the author's partner's childhood in Bangladesh. I've never read any Hensher before, but on the strength of this, I will be checking out his other books. I thought this was really evocative of Asia, and written with a gentle and loving eye towards the quirks and follibles of the family at the centre of it. Each chapter is almost like a mini story, so can be dipped in and out of, but the book as a whole is also satisfying and moving.
A story that is both funny & sad about a little boy named Saadi who was born into a large, close Bengali family in Pakistan. Soon after he is born, the country is divided by a civil war. It goes thru his life, the family traditions, the people they knew. He tells of his beloved Grandfather, a man who is respected by all, hiding his books & music in a wall. He tell how his aunts kept feeding him sweets so he wouldn't cry while soldiers were checking out their house. He talks of games he &...more
The story of the author, Philip Hersher's husband, Saadi's early life in Bangladesh is both heartwarming and intriguing. From a middle class family background Saadi's story follows the lives of his close and extended family during the conflicts within Pakistan (incl. Bangladesh) during the late sixties and early seventies. I really enjoy delving into another culture and someone else's own life story so I was already bound to enjoy this memoir. The wiring style is easy to follow and captures ever...more
I’m not quite sure why but apparently a writer needs to pop out a subject that’s exotic, a little exotic or maybe from somewhere that’s just simply exotic. The rest really doesn’t matter much. Scenes from an Early Life is just that – a bland story set in interesting times from somewhere most people can barely find on a map – Bangladesh! I read Brick Lane a few years ago and Monica Ali got it spot on! Her story was brilliantly heartbreaking and culturally complex but her Bangladeshi characters we...more
After reading a chunk of Philip Hensher’s Scenes From An Early Life, I had to check the cover: yes, it was a novel. No it was not a precious remembrance of a childhood. Generally I am quite fond of Hensher’s books, but this account of his partner’s growing up in “East Pakistan” is not a solid book. It certainly isn’t novelistic enough. Plot, characterization, theme are quite parsed out of the sentence. You do have a sense of the times, but only filtered through a family –and for some reason occa...more
This will be a sort of 'on the fence' review, as I have no strong feelings either way on this book. I didn't rave over it and rush to bed early to read more and more of it, but neither did I dislike it. The characters were fine, and the descriptions good. Sometimes it leapt around in time a bit too much for me and was a bit confusing. And for some reason I remain baffled by it being a memoir of 'the author's husband'. The author is male so I'm assuming he's gay, which is completely and utterly f...more
There is some gorgeous writing here, and the narrative is always controlled, but unfortunately it gets repetitive and a bit dull and you lose track of who is who in the extended family. It was interesting to learn more about East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh, but I had to force myself to keep reading after two thirds of the way. The musician characters Amit and Altaf are beautifully realised and their friendship/subplot interested me more than Saadi the central character. I would give three and...more
Jul 10, 2013 Maria Longley rated it 4 of 5 stars · review of another edition
This is a mix of a biography, novel and history book - which is intriguing. Saadi is born just before the nation of Bangladesh is born and the book jumps skillfully between the run up to the war with Pakistan and the life after it. Saadi and his family and the associated people around them are warmly portrayed and there are really funny moments in here too (ie it's not just about the war) about families and relations. The family knew Sheikh Mujib and it is very much an account of an upper middle...more
I rated this as average. It has the feel of a Miss Read story (very bland) but the setting is anything but rural England, and should have been a bit more lively. I had a hard time staying involved even though the timeframe was the struggle for Bangladesh independence, and I knew that all was not peaceful then. Probably with all the perspective coming from a young child, I should not have expected much depth. I did appreciate the minute details of life and did get a sense of how life was then for...more
An interesting way to learn something about the times in Bangladesh when it was about to break from Pakistan. This from the perspective of a relatively wealthy family whose life was only moderately impacted by the dreadful events of the war. Fiction but told as if a memoir. A bit confusing from time to time as regards time periods and names of characters.
This was not what I expected after reading the book jacket. I was hoping to learn something about the India/Pakistan split, while being entertained by the stories of a young boy's life. That's not what I got. Not being familiar with this particular history, I found it very confusing, especially since each chapter takes place at a different time. I found myself not looking forward to reading... A sure sign that its time to drop it and give another book a go.
Read it as a memoir, and it's quite nice. Since it's based on recollections of childhood, it largely takes place inside the walls of an affluent home, so a lot of the episodes seem less uniquely Bengali and more universally relatable stories about family. So don't read it for history or excitement, really, but it's a quiet, charming read.
Feb 16, 2013 Linden rated it 5 of 5 stars · review of another edition
Reminds me a bit of the novels of Narayan in style. Loved the quirks and foibles of this family and the background of the formation of Bangladesh is fascinating. I will definitely be rereading this in the future.
Hensher was born in South London, although he spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence in Sheffield, attending Tapton School. He did his undergraduate degree at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford before attending Cambridge, where he was awarded a PhD for work on 18th century painting and satire. Early in his career he worked as a clerk in the House of Commons, from which he was fired over th...moreMore about Philip Hensher...