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Neel Mukherjee - The Lives of Others

James Naughtie and author Neel Mukherjee discuss Neel's novel The Lives of Others with the reading group at Styal Prison.

Neel Mukherjee talks about his Man Booker Prize nominated book The Lives of Others, which explores the way an Indian family's history is disrupted when one member becomes involved in extremist political activism.

The programme was recorded in the library at Styal Prison, Cheshire, with a reading group of women prisoners, and with the support of the National Literacy Trust and the Books Unlocked reading scheme.

The Lives of Others is set in Calcutta and the ricefields on the edge of the jungle in the west of West Bengal. It takes place in the second half of the 1960s and centres on the large and relatively wealthy Ghosh family, led by a patriarch and matriarch who rule the family, from the top of a large shared house, with other relatives on lower floors depending on their social standing.

The eldest grandson, Supratik, has left home and joined the Naxalite communist rebels and is working secretly in the countryside to mobilise the peasants against the landlords. Letters from him to an unnamed correspondent form one thread of narrative. The other is an intricate account of events and relationships on the various floors of the Ghosh house. There are tragedies and comedies, deaths and births, disasters and feasts and a mystery involving jewellery.

The cast is huge and the reader spends time, at one point or another, with most of them. The reading group at Styal prison talk about the large cast of characters and how they drive the story, and also describe the importance of the prison library and reading in their daily lives.

Presenter : James Naughtie
Interviewed Guest : Neel Mukherjee
Producer : Dymphna Flynn

September's Bookclub choice : The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011).

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