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First among unequals: Philly Malicka reviews 'A State of Freedom' by Neel Mukherjee

Books | August Issue


A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee, reviewed by Philly Malicka, Oldie Novel of the Month

What happens when you try to escape your own past? Neel Mukherjee’s searing novel probes the limits of freedom in contemporary India, treating it as an abstract ideal, everywhere obstructed by the country’s harrowing class and gender boundaries. Those familiar with Man Booker-shortlisted The Lives of Others will recognise Mukherjee’s panoramically populated prose and his unflinching stare at the fissures within Indian society.  The five stories exist independently but, like cracks in the earth, they begin to crumble into one another; characters disappear and reappear in each other’s lives. Within this, Mukherjee’s message is clear: the story of inequality is collectively shaming; the experience of social displacement and disappointment is universal. Ignoring his prejudiced mother, he pays a visit to Renu’s family in her village, but finds he is disappointed at his own feelings of ‘shame and pity’, and the way he finds rural cooking ‘workaday and uninspiring’. By contrast...

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