STARRED REVIEW
September 2018

A troubled inheritance

By Preti Taneja
Review by

Take Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, King Lear, “The Jewel in the Crown,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization; pass them along to DJ Danger Mouse for a bit of a mashup; and you’d have a sense of the shape and scope of Preti Taneja’s debut novel, We That Are Young.

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Take Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, King Lear, “The Jewel in the Crown,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization; pass them along to DJ Danger Mouse for a bit of a mashup; and you’d have a sense of the shape and scope of Preti Taneja’s debut novel, We That Are Young.

Impressive in its heft (literally, as it clocks in at nearly 500 pages, and figuratively, as it won the 2018 Desmond Elliott Prize for first-time novelists), We That Are Young chronicles the changing of the guard within a family-owned multinational conglomerate, set against the backdrop of the Indian anti-corruption riots of 2011-12.

Much like some of the most thrilling novels of the past decade, We That Are Young relies on individual narratives that are self-serving and suspect. One central element is clear: Its patriarch, Devraj Bapuji, a former prince and founder of the largest business empire in India, is an unsympathetic lunatic. All the central characters—Devraj’s three daughters who stand to be potential heirs (Sita, Radha and Gargi), plus his right-hand man’s two sons (Jeet and Jivan)—are deeply flawed, so it’s a bit difficult to pick a side. Factor in the casual and untranslated bits of Hindi, and this epic novel announces itself from the outset as no beach read or airplane book; it demands (and rewards) one’s full attention.

Like India itself, the novel is beset with contradictions, as impossible wealth and crushing poverty huddle with one another in an uneasy embrace. And while the setting is uniquely Indian, hints of the rising tide of global income inequality are impossible to ignore.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald noted of the rich nearly a hundred years ago, “Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.” And yet, when the rich are turned loose against one another as they are in We That Are Young, they are still beleaguered by, and often powerless against, the same forces of human nature that bring out our best and basest selves.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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We That Are Young

We That Are Young

By Preti Taneja
Knopf
ISBN 9780525521525

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