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Two Lives

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  3,347 ratings  ·  237 reviews
A heartrending new book -- the story of a marriage and the story of two lives -- from the author of the international bestselling novel A Suitable Boy

Shanti Behari Seth was born on the eighth day of the eighth month in the eighth year of the twentieth century; he died two years before its close. He was brought up in India in the apparently vigorous but dying Raj and was s
Paperback, 544 pages
Published June 13th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
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 ·  3,347 ratings  ·  237 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5000-2019, lor-2019
Sent from India to England, Vicky as they called him, lived with his Uncle Shanti and Hennie. Shanti being from India, Henie who got out of Germany before war broke out, were a very unusual match. As Vickie started college, not sure what he wanted to do, he studied so many things, he literally made my head spin. Throughout his Uncle, and especially Hennie would send him encouraging letters, and remained his stalwart supporters.

He decided to write their stories, they both had such a rich and var
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
'Two Lives' is an amazing book. It takes you into different worlds and lives. It is a story of author' Uncle Shanti who came to Germany from India to study dentistry, not knowing that he would live his entire life abroad. His whole journey was extraordinary. However, the author was least aware of the significant aspects of his uncle's history till his parents showed him letters that uncle Shanti wrote to his German wife, Henny. Even as a young boy, the author knew his uncle and aunt, and in fact ...more
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
A sweeping overview of this enormous project taken up by the author can be succinctly provided through his own words:

It is true that centuries are arbitrary units - determined, among other things, by the miscalculated date of birth of the founder of a religion and the number of fingers on our hands - but because we invest these units with spurious significance, they take on true significance. Shanti and Henny's lives were almost coeval with that arbitrary unit, the twentieth. Both were born in 1
Jul 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, memoirs
From the author of A Suitable Boy, one of my all-time favorite books, comes the story of his great-uncle and -aunt, two ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Shanti, his uncle, left India as a young man to study dentistry in Germany in the early 30's, and it was there that he met the Jewish woman who would eventually become his wife.

Neither Shanti Uncle nor Aunt Henny became famous - they lived fairly quiet lives after the war - but it's a testament to Seth's talent as an author that I
Oct 02, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Julie Waldman
Jan 04, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks, wwi-ii
I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook read by Vikram himself. The exchange of letters between Jewish survivors and their German Christian friends after the war was particularly interesting.
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
Louise Savidge
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now I really want to read A Suitable Boy! This book is so many things: a portrait of a marriage; biography of two very different but equally interesting characters; a study of relationships across age and gender; an exploration of the impact of WW2 from a German and Indian perspective; autobiography. Brilliant!
“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
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Two Lives: A Memoir by Vikram Seth

The Two Lives are those of the author's great uncle Shanti and great aunt Henny, who lived in Hendon when he knew them, but had met in Berlin before the Second World War. She was a Jewish native of Berlin. He was an Indian student of dentistry with connections in Britain.

Seth describes his dealings with the couple as he became friends with them as their lodger when he was studying in England. But the book is principally an account of their own relationship, whic
Aug 14, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Rishi Prakash
I always had looked at "A Suitable Boy" with a lot of interest and curiosity but found it too thick to pick it up which finally made me pick up Mr Seth's Two Lives! Guess more out of guilt than interest!

This book is part memoir, part biography and tells the story of Seth’s uncle Shanti, a World War II veteran who settled in London, and Shanti’s German wife, Henny and Seth's relationship with them.

The book is way too detailed for my liking with many letters and characters in it which ended up c
Oct 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Martha Klein
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good book, a little wandering at times, as he was often writing about himself as much as his subjects. Pretty dispiriting but I guess needful to remind ourselves of the toll the Nazis took in so many ways.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this unique story - unique because of the kind of people it focuses on and because of the way Seth researches and explores his family history. The story is about Seth's uncle and his wife, a German Jewish woman whom he meets when he goes to Germany to study in the days just before World War II. Seth paints a fascinating scene of integration among Jews and Christians that I haven't encountered before in stories from this period - fiction or nonfiction. And these ties of his aunt's - who ...more
Bhavana Tiwari
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
I started this book in the times of corona quarantine of 2020. I had read Mr. Seth's Golden Gate last year and began Two Lives with the same enthusiasm.
'Two Lives' is not a love story set in the times of holocaust, neither is it an easy read for a relaxing Sunday evening, Rather 'Two Lives' book is a memorial built by Mr. Seth for his Uncle and Aunt with whom he shares his fondest days and as quoted in the book "Admires the most".
This book is a story of an innocent friendship that turns to an g
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Teresa Mills-clark
As much as I tried to get into this book it seemed too unwieldy for me. The author is a stickler for details and that contributed to the unwieldiness. I just couldn't move much past the first 100/500 pages. Maybe I'll pick it up again, in the future. Maybe.
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 06, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Jan 16, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Apr 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
There are in this book many interesting and moving details about people's lives and thoughts in an historical perspective.

However, the book has the feel of a thesis written by an undergraduate student whose primary concern is to be sure to include every single detail about every single point he can find concerning his characters. This is all the more annoying as some historical events (for instance battles or war campaigns) are summed up in a couple of sweeping sentences that seem to express the
Sorayya Khan
Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book, parts memoir, biography, history, and detective story. Vikram Seth sets out to tell his great uncle's story, but discovers that his life is not his alone: it belongs to multiple generations, is crafted by history and politics, and is rooted in love. Not only that, the story of Shanti Uncle and his bride, Aunt Henny, is the story of the twentieth century and spans India, Germany, England, and the US. The narrative shows us how our world has always been connected, how ...more
Catherine Siemann
Jun 15, 2009 rated it liked it
I was a big fan of Seth's A Suitable Boy, which estimable tome I took on vacation in hardcover; I am not afraid of big books. Two Lives, however, feels like it could use some tightening. I was interested in Shanti Uncle and Aunt Henny, and their story, which spans from India to prewar Berlin to England, but some of the letter-by-letter commentary on Henny's post-war relationships with her non-Jewish Berlin friends got a bit extensive. Worth reading, but it does have its doldrums.
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What's the Name o...: SOLVED. Biography of great aunt and uncle of author. [s] 5 21 Apr 29, 2019 01:42PM  
Vikram Seth 3 29 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

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