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Scenes from Early Life

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  178 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Philip Hensher’s husband, Zaved Mahmood, was born in late 1970 in Dacca, then a regional capital of Pakistan. In the months following his birth, the eastern part of the country split from the western side in a war of independence of savage violence. In December 1971, after the deaths of millions of innocent victims in the civil war, a new country was declared: Bangladesh, ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
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
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fantastic read. Hensher writes in the voice of a child, which is not easy to do, but he strikes such a fine balance between the seriousness of situations and what a child sees, that it was a brilliant read.
Sep 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is described as a novel but on closer examination it is the author adapting the memories of his husbands life and family history in Bangladesh before and after its independence from Pakistan in 1971,and creating a novel from them. What I liked about the book is that whilst the family are middle class; Saadi the childs father and grandfather are lawyers, live in a big house in Dacca, and are friendly with laeding artists and even the eventual president, it is not a tale of dramatic priv ...more
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
"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, on
Shirley Freeman
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
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books, 2014
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
Maria Longley
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
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Alison Seery
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
, Highly recommended, an insight into the culture of the Bangladesh life and fine detail on a period of history I knew very little about.
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
What do reviews signify for me? Well, I write them, because I want to properly send a book off and start a new one. So, I’ll be sending off Scenes from early life in this review so that I can start reading one of the nine books from my TBR pile.

What can I say? I thought I wasn’t ever going to finish SFEL at first. It made me feel comfortable, but often a little bit too comfortable. I fell asleep every time I read it! My fucked up sleep schedule is also to blame :( However, there was a moment th
Kieran Walsh
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
William Koon
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
May 03, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I really enjoyed "The Mulberry Empire" with its deft, funny, and adventurous narrative. "Scenes from Early Life" doesn't measure up.

The first half isn't bad, actually: it's a fairly entertaining piecemeal depiction of life Dacca [Dhaka], which would eventually become the capital city of Bangladesh, as told (mostly) from the point of view of a young boy. The "Early Life" of the title is both that of this boy and of Bangladesh. This part of the novel is lively, although unoriginal if
Jun 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Carolyn Mck
Although this says it’s a novel, it is firmly based on the recollections and family history of Hensher’s partner, who was born at the time of the Bangladesh war of independence. It is a wonderfully rendered account of a middle class Bengali family, with a love for its culture and traditions. The atrocities of the war and subsequent famine are downplayed but come across strongly none the less. The novel gave me both great pleasure and enlightened me on a little known (to me) part of recent histor ...more
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 14, 2013 marked it as stopped-reading
Shelves: 2013
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.

Alex Handyside
Slow, ponderous at times, interesting at others, but never captivating, I endured this one because I wanted to learn about life in the time leading up to independence. It succeeded for the most part in doing that. But it really skips over the crucial final 6 months, so better get a history book for that part.
Carol Wakefield
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.
May 31, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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.
May 03, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read set in a time and place I previously knew nothing about.
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a gentle way for me to learn about the civil war in Pakistan and the rise of Bangladesh. Liked how it's a memoir - Saadi is a sweet kid.
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Full of history and emotion!
This novel follows the lives of a family in Bangladesh in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It interested me to see life in that country and the book was really charming.
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Hensher was born in South London, although he spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence in Sheffield, attending Tapton School.[2] 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 ...more
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