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  1. Book ImageThe Lives of Others

    Neel Mukherjee

    Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this “dazzling” (Entertainment Weekly) saga of epic scope is both a family and a political drama.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you understand the title of the book?
  2. What role does empathy play in The Lives of Others—both in the Ghosh family dynamics and in the nature of Supratik’s political action?
  3. What about the role of jealousy? How might it be argued that jealousy is, in certain ways, the opposite of empathy?
  4. Discuss the two epilogues to the book. Why might the author have chosen to include both? How does each change your understanding of the events of the book? Do the two outlooks align with or contradict each other?
  5. One of the characters in The Lives of Others, paraphrasing Karl Marx, says, “The family is the first and the primary unit of oppression and exploitation.” How do the two main storylines of The Lives of Others, that of family life and that of political action, mirror and comment on each other?
  6. Discuss Supratik’s betrayal of Madan. Why did he frame him for the theft of the family jewelry? How does this act complicate your understanding of his political views, idealism, and morality?
  7. How does the novel characterize family bonds? Are all family ties created equal? How do the family bonds in The Lives of Others relate to or differ from your own?
  8. Throughout the course of the novel, we follow Somnath’s life from birth to death. How, in your opinion, does his early childhood and role in his family contribute to the kind of man he becomes?
  9. Sona is a mathematical genius, his skills eventually landing him a ticket to early acceptance at Stanford. Supratik also engages in certain kinds of mathematical thinking, such as when he calculates to frame Madan (trading one have-not to improve the lives of fifty have-nots), engaging in “arithmetic” that dooms them both. What role does mathematics (or, more broadly, calculations, abstractions, logical reasoning) play in the book?
  10. In your opinion, is political action a noble or worthy pursuit? Why or why not? How does the novel ultimately judge the effectiveness of political action? What kinds of things motivate political action? What allows some people to ignore larger societal concerns, while others fixate on them? Do you consider yourself to be politically active, and what does that mean to you?

About Neel Mukherjee

Calcutta-born Neel Mukherjee is the author of three acclaimed novels. A State of Freedom was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and The Lives of Others was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Mukherjee divides his time between London and the US.

Books by Neel Mukherjee

  1. Book CoverA Life Apart: A Novel

    "A brilliant first novel . . . shockingly good." —Rose Tremain, Daily TelegraphMore

  2. Book CoverThe Lives of Others

    Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this “dazzling” (Entertainment Weekly) saga of epic scope is both a family and a political drama.More

  3. Book CoverA State of Freedom: A Novel

    A New York Times Notable Book of 2018

    A devastating novel of multiple narratives, “a mark of Neel Mukherjee’s range and force and ambition” (New York Times Book Review).More