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A Play for the End of the World

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A dazzling debut novel--set in early 1970's New York and rural India--the story of a turbulent, unlikely romance, a harrowing account of the lasting horrors of the Second World War, and a searing examination of one man's search for forgiveness and acceptance.

New York City, 1972. Jaryk Smith, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Lucy Gardner, a southerner, newly arrived in the city, are in the first bloom of love when they receive word that Jaryk's oldest friend has died under mysterious circumstances in a rural village in eastern India.

Travelling there alone to collect his friend's ashes, Jaryk soon finds himself enmeshed in the chaos of local politics and efforts to stage a play in protest against the government--the same play that he performed as a child in Warsaw as an act of resistance against the Nazis. Torn between the survivor's guilt he has carried for decades and his feelings for Lucy (who, unbeknownst to him, is pregnant with his child), Jaryk must decide how to honor both the past and the present, and how to accept a happiness he is not sure he deserves.

An unforgettable love story, a provocative exploration of the role of art in times of political upheaval, and a deeply moving reminder of the power of the past to shape the present, A Play for the End of the World is a remarkable debut from an exciting new voice in fiction.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published September 7, 2021

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About the author

Jai Chakrabarti

4 books64 followers
Jai Chakrabarti is the author of the novel A Play for the End of the World, which won the National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction, was long-listed for the PEN/Faulkner Award and short-listed for the Tagore Prize. He is also the author of the story collection A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness. His short fiction has received both an O. Henry Award and a Pushcart Prize and has been anthologized in the Best American Short Stories and performed on Selected Shorts by Symphony Space. His nonfiction has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and elsewhere. Born in Kolkata, India, he now lives in New York with his family.

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5 stars
239 (31%)
4 stars
318 (42%)
3 stars
157 (20%)
2 stars
32 (4%)
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6 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 144 reviews
807 reviews130 followers
January 21, 2022
This book is why I enjoy reading. It's the epitome of a good read.

This book is about love, about the human will to survive, and the need to both hope and risk.

The story was poignant, bittersweet and affecting.  I thought the plotting was smart and both propelled the story forward as well as added dimensions to the stories and characters.  The tone was just so very moving, tender and delicate.  I liked all the characters and especially, Mrs. Pal and Neel.  

I can't help but believe that #ownvoices is why the Indian characters are fully formed and distinct (and not caricatures).  There was no obvious explaining (of Polish foods or Indian foods or words) and no pandering to the white gaze.  And because Jai knows the US so well, his white characters are realistic and personable.  Young Jaryk is crafted with such love and care.  Misha is a gem.  Pan Doktor as well.  Oh, all of the kids at the orphanage and in Gopalpur Village are treasures.

After pushing my bedtime to finish this book, the story and the characters stayed with me.  I held them dear.

The writing is strong, clear -- not fancy or complicated but very heartfelt and careful. 

My one complaint is about the chapter titles: they gave away what would happen and served as a spoiler.  I prefer to let the story carry me unawares but willing to be carried.

I would readily read more from Jai and I consider it a huge honor to have "lived" in this book.

Several quotes:

Sometime between living and dying the train again stopped. It was the moment Jaryk remembered more than any other. Thirty years, he hadn't grown himself another version. Some memories were like that, bolted and nailed to the mind's eye.

...He looked at Pan Doktor, and Pan Doktor winked the way he did whenever a mischief had been made but no one was going to be told, because love was that kind of secret-keeping.

When the cantor came out, the room grew quiet. Somewhere in the second song, her heart opened to his sad melody without words; it took her into a place of low-moving nimbus clouds, and she sank into her seat and let the music gather inside her....

It seemed to him the greatest missive of love, frightening in its boldness, impossible to claim.

...From above the tree line came birdsong: grave, in octaves so somber Lucy at first confused the melody with the sound of water.... 

...She could play a prelude or fugue by Bach from memory, and that was what came to her now, all the notes her mother had given her, emerging from a place of uncomplicated joy.  Playing a long composition from memory was like hiking a trail her body remembered without a map, its inner choreography a compass for the next note and the one after....

Profile Image for Binita Gupta.
66 reviews16 followers
November 29, 2021
This was probably one of the most beautiful books I've read, and it's extra surprising this is Jai Chakrabarti's first novel since it's so well-written. There are certain books I like reading, but I'm okay with not necessarily owning or buying it because I don't think I'd really want to flip back to and re-read sections. This book is one I'm actively really grateful that I bought, because it's the kind of book I want to refer back to passages of over and over again.

This book has probably the most interesting premise of any I've read recently; simplistically, the story is of a Holocaust survivor who goes to Kolkata to put on a children's rendition of the Rabindrath Tagore play "Dak Ghar" during the Naxal movement. The storyline alone drew me in, but it was exceptionally interesting to hear about the Naxal movement from the perspective of a white foreigner who had a type of transient political immunity and to see the type of distance he could maintain from the movement while still using his privilege to support the Gopalpur community. I was a little nervous reading about India (specifically Bengal) from a white man's perspective, but Jai Chakrabarti does an incredible job of capturing India from a fresh, naive lens without it feeling weirdly voyeuristic.

The two major places that the story takes place in are West Bengal and New York City, two places I feel especially connected to since my family's originally from West Bengal and I've now lived in NYC for about a little over a year, which made the book feel extra personal. The book very much feels like a love letter to New York especially, and it was even more exciting reading it and understanding the geographical references and being able to visualize the neighborhoods. Some of the imagery and language about NY is so beautiful that I actually really want to go back and highlight or tag the quotes I especially like so I can refer back to them.

This was such an incredible book and might be one of my new favorite books of all time, and I'm so happy I stumbled upon it. I couldn't recommend it more highly, and I can't wait to read more of Chakrabarti's work!
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews655 followers
March 18, 2022
From NYC to Warsaw to India - wartime history and the impact of art in the form of a play, a relationship and how a friendship continues after survival in an orphanage… an intense story I enjoyed.
Profile Image for Jan.
1,113 reviews29 followers
February 25, 2022
For me, this is one of the weaker novels of the 2022 Pen Faulkner longlist. While some of the writing was nice, parts of the plot seemed dragged out, and the female protagonist and her plot line were clichéd.
Profile Image for Lin Salisbury.
190 reviews15 followers
August 6, 2021
Jai Chakrabarti’s A PLAY FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is a moving novel about survival guilt and the emotional cost of war, as well as the power of art and love to heal.

In New York City 1972, Jaryk Smith, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Lucy Gardener, a free-spirited southerner newly arrived to the city, fall in love and are just opening up to each other when Jaryk’s oldest childhood friend unexpectedly dies in India. Jaryk travels there to retrieve his ashes and soon finds himself enmeshed in the political turmoil of the newly arrived refugees from Bangladesh. His friend, Misha had gone there to help produce a play in protest of the government – a play that Jaryk and Misha had performed as children in the ghetto – and one that Jaryk feels compelled to stay in India to produce in memory of his friend. Lucy knows little of Jaryk’s past and feels the sting of rejection when he refuses to return home to her. Stuck between his past and his future, Jaryk must make a courageous decision.

At the center of the novel is a play written by Tagore, Dak Ghar, performed by the children in the ghetto, and directed by their loving caregiver as a way to prepare the children for a future they could not comprehend, while in India, the children performing the play are a pawn in the hands of a professor with political motivations.

Chakrabarti has a keen sense of timing – oscillating the storyline backward and forward to reveal Jaryk’s motivation, his heart-wrenching past, and his fear of moving into a future as a sole survivor of the orphanage where his story began.

A PLAY FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is a provocative meditation on love, war, politics, and art. I highly recommend it for fans of historical fiction. Listen to my interview with Jai Chakrabarti on September 23 at 7:00 pm on Superior Reads, 90.7 Grand Marais, or on the web at www.wtip.org.
516 reviews17 followers
July 11, 2021
Thanks to Edelweiss and Knopf for the ebook. A beautiful love story where nothing seems to come easily. Jaryk, who as a child in an orphanage in Warsaw is able to survive on his own as everyone he knows, except his great friend Misha, perishes in the camps. In 1971, in Manhattan, he starts an affair with Lucy, a one time musical student who now works in an employment office. As close as they get, the horrors of Jaryk’s past keep them from full intimacy. When Misha passes away while helping to stage a political play in India, the same play they staged at the orphanage in Warsaw thirty years before, Jaryk flies to India to take his place, endangering his relationship with Lucy, who flies after him to try and bring him back, and maybe even his own life. But Jaryk needs to step out of the shadows of his past and help a community like so many have helped him in the past if he is to have any chance of an open and true life with Lucy.
594 reviews13 followers
November 27, 2021
A slow start, this novel fluctuates between 1942 and the 1970s while tracing the path of the protagonist (Jaryk Smith) from Warsaw to New York to India and back to New York. The plot trundles along to reveal a love story between Jaryk grappling with a traumatized past and the independent, delightful Lucy Gardner who works at the employment office in NY helping her many clients with her encouragement and "move forward" attitude.

When Jaryk is introduced to the reader, he is a grown man eking out a living in NY. He has a deep and abiding bond and friendship with Misha Waszynski, an older mentor and friend who was especially kind to him while they were both in an orphanage in Warsaw. This friendship solidifies over hardship, fear, hunger, and survival as Poland struggles with the tyranny of Nazi Germany. These two friends are miraculously spared while everyone else at the orphanage including the kind doctor and the compassionate matron, perished. Their perilous past is riddled with loss and guilt and sacrifice.

Misha wants Jaryk to settle down and is hopeful and encouraging of his budding relationship with Lucy Gardner. Misha had earlier planned a trip to India to help direct a play, which he and his friend had participated in while at the ghetto/orphanage. The play, written by the talented Rabindranauth Tagore and when enacted in Warsaw, offered comfort to the Warsaw children who were unaware of plans made for them to be deported to Treblinka, a German extermination camp. The intention is for Jaryk to accompany Misha to help with this play project in India.

Misha departs for India while Jaryk, flush in the bloom of first love with Lucy Gardner, stays behind as he courts Lucy. Unfortunately Misha passes away; Jaryk is thrust into immense grief and guilt. He rushes to India leaving a letter coldly penned for Lucy about his whereabouts. Lucy is struggling to understand the complex and murky personality of Jaryk who she is slowly discovering has a very sad and unfortunate past. Jaryk becomes enmeshed with a professor bent on making a political statement while Jaryk's sole purpose is to help the residents in the impoverished village find hope and some joy amidst a controversy over land ownership.

Lucy discovers she is pregnant and decides to visit Jaryk in India to tell him the news in person. Jaryk makes a difficult choice to stay behind in India; he feels obliged to produce the play in memory of his friend. This choice leads to Lucy returning to NY where she contemplates a life of raising her child single-handedly. Lucy is a lovely character and so is her dad and her caring childhood neighbour, Timothy. Lucy seems a bit unhinged by Jaryk's behaviour but chooses to avoid any other relationship. At times, I feel like telling Lucy to move on and accept the friendship and support from Jonas, a co-worker and "a man of means and an open heart."

The section of the novel with respect to Jaryk's experiences in India utilizes stereotypical facts. Eventually, Jaryk returns to NY, engages in some soul searching, and sets about to re-examine his future. Finally Lucy tells her dad about her pregnant situation and contemplates her own future. A moving love story and a plot loosely based on the real Janusz Korczak, a Polish writer, educator, and principal of an orphanage in Warsaw in 1942. It also showcases the value and role of art even in trying circumstances. Rounded up to 4 stars.
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews345 followers
September 19, 2021
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Beth Mowbray

A Play for the End of the World is a novel in which many stories are intertwined: those of love and loss, hope and guilt, growth and sacrifice. Perhaps it is most accurately described as an achingly human novel. Readers will feel deeply for Jaryk through his struggle to find happiness in the wake of grief and guilt; will wish for him a way to reconcile the past with the present. Just as Jaryk reflects back while trying to move forward, Chakrabarti explores what it means to survive and contemplates how the past has an uncanny way of echoing into the future. He also centres how powerfully art resonates, how it influences and encourages life even in the most difficult of times … perhaps most importantly during these times.

Chakrabarti has crafted a brilliantly moving debut, a quiet yet insistent imagining that draws on real life to examine issues which are relevant across the globe. A Play for the End of the World is one of those beautifully deceptive pieces of writing that is easy to glide through, but which carries such weight it leaves the mind turning long after the book is finished.

Read the FULL REVIEW on The Nerd Daily
Profile Image for Sarahanne Kent.
11 reviews1 follower
September 27, 2022
This book had no right to be as boring as it was. Against the backdrop of the Holocaust and political conflict in India, it should have been riveting. It was really incredible how unremarkable this book was. The characters were bland. The plot was feeble. The character's motivations were confusing and unbelievable. There were some interesting cultural and psychological dynamics, but otherwise pretty disappointing.
Profile Image for Henry.
Author 1 book1 follower
September 25, 2022
Shockingly bland and frustrating given the rich backdrop in which the book is set. At no point did any character make any decision which was relatable or even reasonable. Deeply disappointing.
Profile Image for Catherine Bishop.
43 reviews21 followers
June 25, 2023
Anyone who rated A Play for the End of the World over three stars would be eviscerated in a high school junior's AP Lit class.

Before I roast this book into the next century, I want to acknowledge that the tricky political/racial moments were handled with great dexterity by Chakrabarti. This book was his debut novel, and there were many things wrong with it, but I think there's a possibility of success in his future works.

This work; however, is an atrocity. I can't remember the last time I read a book where every character was equally one-dimensional. Lucy did not show a deep, genuine emotion once. I kept waiting for her to feel nervous or shameful. But no, she stuck to this "aw shucks" attitude that made no sense in the seriousness of her situation. Jaryk... that survivor's guilt could have been so complex and fascinating, but it was continually referenced and never deepened.

And if you thought the character writing was bad, boy, let me tell you about this plot! The plot could have been solved in one honest conversation. It felt like the striking distance between when a plot point was mentioned and when it was resolved was massive, but there was almost nothing of substance inbetween them. I just kept wondering, "ok... when am I going to read about something that matters?"

I would recommend this book to any middle-aged white woman looking for a feel-good, white-wine-esque novel. Or anyone who loves Oprah's book list.
Profile Image for Chris Lindner.
57 reviews11 followers
October 11, 2022
What a beautiful book! The author took a true story of the last days in the Warsaw ghetto, and re imagined it, with a story of love and self discovery.
The passages are so beautifully written, taking place in two different eras and many locations. The characters are genuine, authentic, bringing a feeling of understanding and empathy that is so rarely pulled off by the author.
One of the best reads I have read! It will stay with me forever. What a gift this book is!
Thank you Goodreads for the giveaway!
195 reviews
May 17, 2022
This was a sweet, original story, with a new voice and perspective. I appreciated that he created a plausible fictional story from a real (heartbreaking) account of reading a Tagore play in a Warsaw Jewish orphanage in 1942. The journey of a child from that orphanage to NYC to a rural village near Calcutta was interesting. At the emotional center was a man struggling to heal from a truly devastating childhood and the woman who loved him.
71 reviews
August 24, 2021
A novel set in New York and India in the 1970’s. The book involves an unlikely love story and becoming enmeshed in a political upheaval in Calcutta. With the back story about survivors guilt, this is a very moving and intense book.
Profile Image for Stephanie .
1,115 reviews43 followers
November 29, 2021
I’ve always loved stories that remind us of the way that art can change lives, especially things like the tales of prisoners banding together to create music, art, etc. I was pleased to receive a copy of A Play for The End of The World by Jai Chakrabarti from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

One thing that appealed to me about this was the setting in rural India in the 1970s. I was deeply affected by Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland and astonished by my realization of the depth of my ignorance about Indian history and political movements, and this story seemed like it might also be a good opportunity for learning.

Jaryk Smith, a guilt-ridden survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, learns that his oldest friend has died in rural India in 1972. Jaryk travels to India to gather his friend’s ashes, and becomes enmeshed in local politics, planning to protest against the local government by recreating the play he participated in as a protest against the Nazis in Warsaw. The story delves deeply into Jaryk’s turmoil as he wrestles with his survivor’s guilt and explores his new feelings of love for Lucy Garnder back in New York (who is carrying his child — surprise!)

It is beautifully written, full of lessons about love, acceptance, guilt, forgiveness, etc. It would probably be five stars if this were a normal time. And it’s unfair for me to judge a book when I KNOW my views are seriously diminished by the mounting despair I feel watching attempts to destroy democracy…so I am sure I will reread this and perhaps change my view. I don’t feel it is fair to give it 5 stars when I am all over the place about everything…so it’s a four from me.
Profile Image for Carole Bell.
Author 3 books123 followers
December 29, 2021
This book affected me profoundly. It's beautifully rendered historical fiction that begins in World War II and then jumps to the 1970s. It addresses some of the core themes found in fiction of that post war period—the role of art and love in survival.

In Jai Chakrabarti’s debut novel, a play by Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore is a magical and malleable symbol, used to help children accept a dark reality and as a tool for resistance. By staging the play during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Jaryk and his fellow orphans experienced a kind of liberation by imagination. But while the other children’s relief was temporary, Jaryk had the life-altering fortune and burden of becoming the orphanage’s lone survivor. Unlike his fellow orphans, unlike almost everyone else he had known in the meager years he enjoyed before the war, Jaryk got a chance at a long life.

A Play for the End of the World primarily focuses on what happens next, how new life takes root after extreme ruin. Highly recommend.

Read my full review at BookPage: https://www.bookpage.com/reviews/2657...
Profile Image for Trish Ryan.
Author 5 books20 followers
August 6, 2021
A Play for the End of the World is a beautiful, surprising novel filled with both harsh reality and unexpected moments of hope. As another reviewer noted, it shouldn’t work, but it does. I especially appreciated the writing - it sweeps you up into the story and even though I was never entirely sure where the author was taking me, it was good to be on the ride. This is the perfect Autumn read, as much of the tone of the book echoed that season - there is death, but the hope of new life, and flashes of bright, stunning color. A book to savor and enjoy.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book.
Profile Image for Alex Owens.
23 reviews
July 10, 2022
Read this for the writing style alone, and stay for the stories so delicately and gently spun together that the weight of the characters and their trials deliver the emotional power they deserve. Not a love story, but a story of love in all its forms: of art and poetry; of friends and brothers; of human connection.
1,003 reviews
November 16, 2021
3.5 stars for the slow and disjointed start, and 4 stars for the more emotional finish. Unusual story tying in the Holocaust and political unrest in India, with some deeply meaningful relationships. But not one of my favorites.
137 reviews86 followers
January 24, 2022
Positively brilliant, a fictional history novel not to be missed. What a remarkable story that I can highly recommend! Bravo, Jai Chakrabarti!
Profile Image for K. E. Creighton.
69 reviews29 followers
September 20, 2023
This book is bittersweet and reminded me a lot of We Are The Light by Matthew Quick (simply because I read the latter first). The prose of this book, however, is incredibly lyrical and beautiful, while also being deeply human and believable. It gently forces us readers to ask how and when art can change us, how and when we can change it, and that it doesn't always have an impact when we want it to but when we need it to. It allows us to see the magic and seriousness of art, through both a child's and adult's eyes, and that all art has an eternal life of its own both inside and outside of us. I highly recommend this book to those who want an intense and beautiful book to read that also has a bittersweet and hopeful yet believable ending. And I believe aficionados of both literary fiction and historical fiction will enjoy this book.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from the book:

"'But what if you could have a revolution with art? What if instead of machetes and guns and bottle bombs and guerillas in the night we could stage plays? What if the exploited could stage the plays themselves? What if the ivory tower transformed into a weapon the poor could use to change the world?'"

"The art that mattered was about sustaining this sense of self, even when everything else in the world demanded otherwise."

"The poems he writes consider the crops, the water, and the land. The trees that were planted long before the British arrived. All of this is the real news of the day. Not what we read in the Calcutta dailies. Not what is told to us by our government radio."

"Trust love even if it brings sorrow. Do not close up your heart...
The heart is only for giving away"

Profile Image for Barbara.
Author 4 books9 followers
January 15, 2023
This book surprised me about myself. At first, I thought it was too slow, too labored. But little by little, it touched some deep place in me. The language and tone were beautiful, capturing the feelings that made Jaryk's survivor's guilt so real. Soon I was so caught up, it all felt so ominous, Would it end well? I am grateful the author sent out hints ("Years later, he would remember...") so I knew there would be years later....
Profile Image for Gillian.
51 reviews
December 25, 2021
Intriguing mix of cultures and philosophical views. Who expects India and the Holocaust?? And once again we see no heroes in violent tribalism, right or left wing. But mercifully there are some good individuals being kind to each other in the midst of the general political wickedness.
Profile Image for Paula.
133 reviews
February 2, 2022
What a beautiful book.

Can anyone who survives searing loss and trauma ever live in unfettered joy and love again?
Can art transform societies? Individuals? Systems? Relationships?

You can read the summaries elsewhere. The beauty of this story, for me, lies in the way Chakrabarti weaves these themes through three (or more?) distinctive cultures across thirty years on three continents.

I'm so glad to have read this.

Profile Image for Amanda ~lilacsandliterature.
159 reviews70 followers
September 8, 2021
Thank you to @aaknopf for the gifted advanced copy!

This is the type of novel I LOVE. So many wonderfully written characters, bouncing back and forth between years and locations, and such an amazing story that I couldn’t put it down. ⁣

In 1972, Jaryk Smith who is a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto meets Lucy Gardner, a southerner, in New York City. As their love story begins, an old friend passes away in India and Jaryk must make the journey to recover his ashes. While there, Jaryk finds himself thrust onto center stage to help the local children perform the same play he himself acted in in Warsaw, 1942. ⁣

This was such a beautifully written novel with amazing characters that will stay with me. I loved how deep Jaryk and Lucy’s love runs but that it was also the victim of trauma and secrets. We learn so much about Jaryk’s time at the orphanage as a child, how he was able to make it out alive when so many of his friends did not, and how politics inform so many decisions and outcomes. ⁣

I cannot recommend this book enough. It was heartbreaking, beautiful, and deeply moving. Do not miss this one! I said in my stories yesterday that I realize @goodreads is not the end all be all by any means, but it does have a 4.5 rating so I know I’m not alone! Historical fiction fans (and even if you’re not…) will love this story.⁣

TW: Holocaust, children’s death, imprisonment⁣

Profile Image for Sue.
105 reviews1 follower
September 14, 2021
4.5 rounded up to 5.
This was unexpectedly so beautiful.
117 reviews
August 10, 2021
I really enjoyed this book. It has a bit of a slow start but is beautifully written to bounce between different times and places. The differing narrator points of view keep the story fresh. Some might suspect from the title that it is a sad book and while there are parts where this is true, the book itself is not sad. The characters are well built and it is an incredibly immersive read.
Profile Image for Beth Mowbray.
306 reviews17 followers
September 27, 2021

Check out a sneak peek below, then head on over to www.thenerddaily.com for the full book review!

“A Play for the End of the World is a novel in which many stories are intertwined: those of love and loss, hope and guilt, growth and sacrifice. Perhaps it is most accurately described as an achingly human novel. Readers will feel deeply for Jaryk through his struggle to find happiness in the wake of grief and guilt; will wish for him a way to reconcile the past with the present. Just as Jaryk reflects back while trying to move forward, Chakrabarti explores what it means to survive and contemplates how the past has an uncanny way of echoing into the future. He also centres how powerfully art resonates, how it influences and encourages life even in the most difficult of times … perhaps most importantly during these times.”

Thanks to the publisher for gifting me an advance copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 144 reviews

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