Fractured, hidden lives in Neel Mukherjee's new novel

A Naxalite rebel motif weaves through Mukherjee’s seemingly fragmented lives A State of Freedom grows more urgent and compelling as it proceeds. In his third novel, Neel Mukherjee conflates the themes of his previous books, A Life Apart and the Man Booker-shortlisted Lives of Others : the figure of the Indian expatriate, educated in Europe, who finds himself a “tourist in his own country”; the ongoing revolutionary Maoist-Naxalite insurgency, which started in West Bengal and has been in conflict with the Indian government since the late 1960s; and attempts by marginalised individuals to achieve self-determination despite the iniquities of a vast, raucously messy society. It is this last element that has the greatest impact in a work of exacting, tactically brilliant, interlinked narratives. Mukherjee, born in Calcutta in 1970, homes in on the restless, the disinherited, the socially trapped, insisting that a life of dignity should be within their grasp, no matter how desperate the circumstances. Simultaneously, he subverts the expectations of these protagonists who often, in making last-ditch efforts to achieve autonomy, discover ultimately that what they most desire proves most confining. Mercilessly observant, he does not spare the reader but leavens scenes of savagery, squalor and despair […]

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