Fractured, hidden lives in Neel Mukherjee's new novel

A Naxalite rebel motif weaves Mukherjee’s seemingly fragmented lives A State of Freedom grows more urgent compelling as it proceeds. In his third novel, Neel Mukherjee conflates the of his previous books, A Life Apart the Man Booker-shortlisted Lives of Others : the figure of the Indian expatriate, educated in Europe, 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 often, in making last-ditch efforts to achieve autonomy, discover ultimately that what they desire proves confining. Mercilessly observant, he does not spare the reader but leavens scenes of savagery, squalor and despair […]

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