From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* One of life's great pleasures is a book that fools you. Hensher's latest is a novelistic recounting of a real family in the years before and after Bangladesh's separation from Pakistan. Hensher leads you on a leisurely stroll through the family's comfortable life: the spacious house with servants, the children playing in the street, the mangos and chilies drying on the balcony. We get to know the gardener, the humble music teacher, the respectable men in respectable professions, all the cast of characters that looms so large in the childhood world of the narrator and favored grandson, Saadi. It is only with time that we perceive Hensher's artistry. Small details like who will fix a water faucet are revealed to have complicated sociological aspects. Passing references to a difficult past hint at the terrors that accompanied partition from India. And the careful work that Hensher has put into portraying these people and their world pays off as we see them threatened with the growing aggression of West Pakistan and understand the toll that political uncertainty and mutual distrust take on the lives of good people. Scenes from Early Life starts out charming, develops into something warm and engaging, and ends up packing a wallop.--Weber, Lynn Copyright 2010 Booklist
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In Hensher's (King of the Badgers) lush novel, somewhat based on his husband Zaved Mahmood's Bengali childhood, the war for control of what became Bangladesh unfolds before a child's eyes. Mahmood's fictional alter ego, Saadi, is born in 1970 to an upper-middle-class family in Dacca and grows up in luxury even as the country deteriorates around him. Hensher's transitions between Saadi's present and the past of his large extended family are so seamless as to be nearly invisible. Saadi's life revolves around his maternal grandparents, figures powerful enough that Saadi, his brother and sisters, and their parents are never far from the lavish compound that is also home to a constant rotation of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Other characters flit in and out of view, most prominently musicians Altaf and Amit, who personify the deep current of artistic expression in Dacca and the bond between men that can extend beyond blood. Their forced separation, when Amit flees to Calcutta, underscores the dire situation in East Pakistan. In relaying the history of the struggle for Bangladeshi independence, Hensher avoids punctiliousness, as the story is filtered through young Saadi, whose innocence in the face of turmoil creates the emotional core of the story. Agent: Georgia Garrett, Rogers, Coleridge & White, U.K. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.