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Two Lives

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  2,204 ratings  ·  161 reviews
Widely acclaimed as one of the world's greatest living writers, Vikram Seth -- author of the international bestseller A Suitable Boy -- tells the heartrending true story of a friendship, a marriage, and a century. Weaving together the strands of two extraordinary lives -- Shanti Behari Seth, an immigrant from India who came to Berlin to study in the 1930s, and Helga Gerda ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published June 13th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Jwala
Two Lives is a homage to two people(Shanti and Henny) and to a whole generation which despite being separated from us by mere decades, now seems to exist in a different world. The author combines a memoir of his own years with a biography of his aunt and uncle, who helped raise him in London as a teenager.I was very much impressed by the great care Seth takes in exploring even minor aspects of their character and story.
But i felt that the second half of the book which deals with aunty henny and
...more
Vicky
I think Vikram Seth is my favorite Indian author. I read his huge (over 700 pages)novel A Suitable Boy while in Fiji because many of my Indian friends recommended it. It is the wonderful story of several Indian families, often humorous and always beautifully written, that covers the panorama of Indian history from Partition to the present. But I think his best book is Two Lives, the story of the aunt and uncle he lived with while going to university in London. These two very different people com ...more
Chris
While Two Lives is, on the surface, a double biography, perhaps it is more an intensely personal journey for Vikram Seth-an opportunity to explore the many sides of his uncle, Shanti, and his aunt, Henny, two people who loved and cared for him and were fixed points in his own firmament for most of his life. In doing that for himself, he delivers a subtle, yet affecting gift to his readers.

There have been so many moving accounts written of those who perished or survived during the painful years o
...more
Lorri
“Two Lives“, by Vikram Seth…what an incredible accomplishment, what an inspiring book!

This beautifully written memoir is one that you will remember, long after you have finished the last word, on the last page. The book is infused with prose that is poetic, sensitive, insightful, and pure. It is one of those memoirs that stay in your heart, in your mind, for a long time to come.

“When I was seventeen I went to live with my great-uncle and great-aunt in England. He was an Indian by origin, she Ger
...more
Shriya
Feb 20, 2015 Shriya rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who believes biographies can never be interesting
Before I begin with the review, let me make it very clear : I hate biographies and 'Two Lives' came in my hands as a signed copy belonging to a friend who is a fan of the author. Since I've liked Vikram Seth, since the days of 'The Frog and the Nightingale', I didn't object to 'Two Lives' even though it belonged to the only genre I hate when it comes to books. And was I glad I didn't complain!

No other author, not even the best one there is, can make his granduncle sound interesting, even if the
...more
Annalie
Highly recommended for everybody who enjoyed A Suitable Boy. Vikram Seth writes wonderfully; you can almost imagine he is in the room, telling you the story himself.
Janey
Disappointing memoir of an Uncle (Indian) and Aunt (Jewish German), with whom Seth lived for a while.

The early part of the book, Seth's own story, runs quite well, but the book then gets evermore confusing and disparate - ranging from long and boring accounts of dental practice and equipment to unreadably painful accounts of the deaths the aunt's sister, mother and friends must have suffered in the Holocaust...

Later sections deal variously with her post-war correspondence with old friends - some
...more
Neha
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anusha
There are biographies and then there are memoirs, and then there is that which is an intriguing 'braid' of the two. Where the author is no longer an outsider in the screenplay of events, but himself a living and breathing character, adding a few sprinkles of salt and pepper to the concoction. Two Lives by Vikram Seth is one such piece, and flipping page after page of a beautiful tale of love, life, friends, fiends and a time marked by events so strong, that half a century is defined by them, you ...more
James
Two Lives: A Memoir is the story of the two lives of the title, but it is very much more and that is why I enjoyed reading it. First there is the story of Shanti Behari Seth, an immigrant from India who came to Berlin to study in the 1930s, and Helga Gerda Caro, the young German woman who became his wife. Secondly we have the introductory section (Part One) that introduces the author, Vikram Seth and his schooling in England (and later the United States) which precipitated his close relationship ...more
Caroline
I was very surprised by how quickly this book went by. It wasn't written in a particularly exciting way, nor did it make any effort to express an atmosphere or immerse you in the narrative (the author commented a lot on his approach as he went along), but there was still something touching about it. And it was definitely interesting to read all of the letters from the author's great-aunt (in-law), who was a German Jew who escaped to Britain in the late 30s, to her acquaintances in Germany at the ...more
Fionnuala
I'm not sure what Seth intended with this book, and that absence at its heart is somehow fascinating rather than annoying. On the surface it is the backstory of two relatives he got to know as a teenager, but at times it almost becomes Seth's own story of finding a place as a foreigner in the world, and by the end I felt I was reading a meditation on forgiveness. The most gripping part for me was the post-war correspondence between his Aunt Henny(a German Jew who escaped to England in the 1930s) ...more
Jennifer
SPOILER ALERT
I love Vikram Seth's novels, and I thought this would be interesting. It was interesting, but here are my criticisms: the story is told haphazardly, especially in the second half of the book. It sometimes seems as though the author took a bunch of documents and pieced them together without much commentary in between. I'm sure he thought about how they would fit together, but he didn't let me (the reader) know. Also, the book was a lot more depressing than I thought I would be. It wa
...more
Anna
Jan 16, 2015 Anna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: study
"As I leave, I glance once more at the gate of the memorial garden. On it, in silver metal on black, is a single word in Hebrew. In a flower bed to the side, so small as to be almost illegible, is a sign that mentions the Jewish Holocaust in the context of more recents events in Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and goes on to explain the single word above the arch:"Lezikaron". The meaning refers to the importance of looking forward as well as remembering the past. As I walk back to the tube, I co ...more
Suzanne
This is an intimate book as it concerns the author himself and people related and well-known to him. It is also a process of discovery during which we accompany the author from his first encounters with the couple whose lives are described here and his gradually deepening understanding of their lives and the examples they provide of how major events of the twentieth century affected individual "ordinary" people. Or maybe they were not so ordinary as both were expatriates living in a foreign land ...more
Richard
Extremely interesting book; part memoir, part biography. The author writes about the lives of his uncle (An Indian who studied dentistry in Germany) and his aunt (A German Jew who fled to England before 1939). Their lives alone and together encompassed most of the 20th century, and in reviewing their lives, the author is also writing about major events of the century including the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust, World War II as experienced in Sudan & Italy, The Blitz, post war England, pos ...more
Kris
2 STARS

"Widely acclaimed as one of the world's greatest living writers, Vikram Seth -- author of the international bestseller A Suitable Boy -- tells the heartrending true story of a friendship, a marriage, and a century. Weaving together the strands of two extraordinary lives -- Shanti Behari Seth, an immigrant from India who came to Berlin to study in the 1930s, and Helga Gerda Caro, the young German Jewish woman he befriended and later married -- Two Lives is both a history of a violent era s
...more
Julie Waldman
This was a completely fascinating read because it told the story of a German Jewish woman, whose mother and sister were killed by the Nazis, but any resemblance to the 'usual' story ends there. She escapes to London, marries an Indian, but what is most interesting is that she maintains her relationships with her German Christian friends, whose circle she had been entrenched. The story is told to a certain extent through her correspondence with them, as well as from her Indian nephews perspective ...more
Jeannie Long
I originally decided to read this because I was so impressed by the previous novel he wrote entitled, A Suitable Boy. This book is a memoir by the author about the lives of his aunt and uncle and how they influenced his own life. It is interesting because the uncle was originally from India but went to Germany to go to school where he met his wife. The time period is in the 1930’s as Nazism begins to rise so the way their lives play out is both horrific and fascinating. They eventually married i ...more
sima
Seth is a great storyteller, and his prose is beautiful. This book is ultimately a love story, although it doesn't read like one. It's also a historical account of Germany's societal changes before and after WWII.
Helie Dharia
I was sick in bed all day, and since the story was so absorbing, I finished it in two days. This book is beautiful, moving, and deeply personal. The author, Vikram Seth, writes about his great-aunt and -uncle, Henny and Shanti Seth.

This book gives an amazing insight into the events of the 20th century, particularly life in 1930s and 1940s Berlin, where Henny and Shanti first met and where many of their friends lived through WWII. It also gives an account of the events of the Holocaust as they a
...more
Irene Black
Wonderful - I thought I was reading about my own family.
Pooja
This is my first time reading Vikram Seth, although I've wanted to for quite some time now. Funny that I picked up a biography for a first read.(not consciously though!:P) He writes very simply and factually doting very little on the emotional aspect of things. The emotional outcome happens as a gradual process, by the narrative itself. That he is a prolific writer is very clear right from the start. He has a sort of confidence to his style. Two Lives is a biographic account of his uncle Shanti ...more
Drani
In this exploration of war, culture clashes, interracial marriage, the nature of love, aging, and lots more, Vikram Seth also leaks information about his own life and personality to eager fans like me. Although there's certainly not enough to call it an autobiography, I feel like I know him better -- enough to guess that statement would make uncomfortable a shy and slightly reclusive person like him.

If I hadn't been such a fan of the author, however, I'm not sure the presentation of the characte
...more
Stefanie
Schon vor zwei Wochen habe ich dieses Buch beendet, aber ich musste das Gelesene erst etwas sacken lassen, bevor ich jetzt meine Meinung formulieren kann.

Vikram Seth erzählt in diesem Buch die Geschichte seines Onkels Shanti und seiner Tante Henny, bei denen er als Jugendlicher längere Zeit wohnte und zu denen er so lange sie lebten eine ganz besondere Bindung hatte. Er beginnt die Geschichte mit seinen persönlichen Erfahrungen und beschreibt im ersten Teil seine Zeit mit Henny und Shanti. Mit H
...more
Clif Hostetler
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 wher ...more
Carole
This is a book written and narrated by Vikram Seth about his great uncle, Shanti, and his wife, Auntie Hennie. It is a story of two people from different cultures who met in Germany prior to WWII when Shanti came to Germany from India to pursue dental studies. Hennie was part of a very active circle of friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, and Shanti was taken in by the family. The book project began as a suggestion from Seth's mother because of Shanti's depression when his wife died, so it is based o ...more
SamMarie
There was something so raw and delightful about the rich tapestry of letters in Two Lives. The early letters between Shanti and Henny were beautifully intimate and elegant. While I enjoyed the stories of Shanti's life and particularly the wisdom and humour in some of the first hand interviews, it was the trove of Henny’s letters that was my favourite section of the book. I poured over the raft of letters between Henny and her friends and acquaintances. They really brought home that living throug ...more
Mary Etta
Five stars from Vicky, three from Jan. Looks interesting.

It was interesting. Really quite remarkable in characters, places and time. Reading of the Holocaust from the letters and accounts of those affected makes this more poignant. I liked the goodhearted feelings of family for one another sensed in Shanti's Indian family as well as Henny's. Vikram Seth weaves the story of these two apparently very different people from his love for them, what they meant to him as well as his interviews and disc
...more
Jo
Somehow, this book had found me. It all started with a mere coincidence: Someone's last name reminded me of the author's first name, which sounded vaguely familiar. All the while I was unable to match it with a title of a book of his or even snippets of his biography. Google, however, quickly quenched my thirst for knowledge, and no sooner had I read a brief description of Two Lives than I had bought it.

I didn't know it was a 500-pages tome until I eventually held it in my hands. Somewhat reluc
...more
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Vikram Seth 3 27 Jul 10, 2014 06:54PM  
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Vikram Seth is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist.

During the course of his doctorate studies at Stanford, he did his field work in China and translated Hindi and Chinese poetry into English. He returned to Delhi via Xinjiang and Tibet which led to a travel narrative From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983) which won
...more
More about Vikram Seth...
A Suitable Boy (A Suitable Boy, #1) An Equal Music The Golden Gate From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet Beastly Tales from Here and There

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“Behind every door on every ordinary street, in every hut in every ordinary village in 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 leave us together or apart, what a complex trace they leave: so personal as to be almost incommunicable, so fugitive as to be almost irrecoverable.” 5 likes
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