My Beloved Life

Knopf. Feb. 2024. 352p. ISBN 9780593536063. $29. F
In this lovely examination of memory and perception, multi-award-winning novelist, essayist, and Vassar professor of English Kumar (A Time Outside This Time) explores a century of Indian history through the life of Jadu, a country boy whose college education expands his worldview. Readers experience the dissolution of the British Raj during the 1947 Partition, Indira Gandhi’s war with Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh, and Prime Minister Gandhi’s two-year crack down on civil liberties and the press. Jadu’s reflections on his student days, in particular the complex caste system, his marriage, his friendships, and his teaching career, are all seen through the prism of these historical events. About halfway through this leisurely tale, Kumar switches gears, introducing the more immediate first-person voice of Jadu’s daughter Jugnu, an Atlanta-based journalist with CNN, whose reminiscences juxtapose intriguingly with Jadu’s own, even as Jugnu’s reportage shows the influence of more recent history: the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its aftermath, and the scourge of COVID.
VERDICT Storytelling as a key to understanding one’s past, whether far or not so distant, is at the heart of this intergenerational historical novel. Recommend to admirers of Isabel Allende, Yaa Gyasi, or Min Jin Lee.
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