We that Are Young by Preti Taneja Galley Beggar Press August 10th 2017
Many books published this year have been modern retellings of a Shakespeare classic. Many have met with great success whilst others have floundered. Preta Taneja is the latest author to join the list with her version of King Lear.
Set in a modern day India at a time of political unrest and social uprising against corrupt politicians and businesses, We That Are Young, is the story of the Bapuj family and their vast and hugely successful network of businesses, the Devraj conglomerate. A business that seemingly has its tentacles in every strand of Indian society.
At its head is -Devraj Bapuji, all powerful in both business and family life. His eldest daughter Gaju is the apparent heir and most senior in the business. Radha, head of Pr loves parties and beautiful things. Sita, the youngest daughter and recent Cambridge graduate is not yet embroiled in the business and is very much the spoilt and indulged of the three daughters.
Outside the family are Ranjit Singh Devraji’s aide de campe, his gay son Jeet, not yet out to his family and lastly Jivan, illegitimate son of Ranjit, returning from exile in America after the death of his mother.
Jivan’s arrival coincides with Sita’s engagement party, from which she flees, setting of a catalyst of events that plunge the entire family and business into deep turmoil.
Told from the perspective of each character this is a novel that explores the very heart of India, from the wealthiest to the poorest.
The characters are amazingly drawn and my favourite has to be Jeet. From party lover and admirer of beautiful things to a life in the slums and garbage dumps of India, Jeet’s transformation is the most revelatory and perhaps shocking. His story clearly shows the abject poverty in which vast swathes of India reside.
Radhu is the complete opposite portraying the trappings of wealth, of lavish parties and habitual drug taking, yet deep down deeply unhappy.
As the family disintegrates Taneji writing goes into emotional overdrive. The anguish, the sheer horrors of the trauma many of the characters face leap from the page. The imagery she captures, from the poverty ridden slums to the lavish hotels and parties are vivid and colourful. The brutality and violence at times made me wince, but the scenes never seemed out of place or too much, perfectly complementing the story.
We That Are Young is a long novel at a mere 530pages but don’t let that deter you because once started you will find it very hard to put down. It is hugely engaging, the writing is stunning and it is definitely one of my books of the year so far.
Why oh why was it not on the Booker Longlist!!
A huge thank you to Galley Beggar Press for a proof copy to read and review.
About the author
Preti is a writer, broadcaster and human rights activist. She is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Warwick University. Preti also writes for The Guardian, The New Statesman, Scroll.In and The Conversation.
Preti’s novella Kumkum Malhotra won the Gatehiuse Press New Fiction Prize.