cover image My Beloved Life

My Beloved Life

Amitava Kumar. Knopf, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-53606-3

Kumar (A Time Outside This Time) unfurls a majestic Indian family saga in successive bildungsroman narratives of a father and daughter. Jadu Kunwar, an 80-something history professor in Patna, remembers the moment his mother gave birth to him in 1935 in their small village. Bitten by a cobra during the delivery, she later points to her survival as an auspicious sign for Jadu’s strength (“All the terrors that life held could not destroy you”). The remainder of Jadu’s story underscores that sentiment as it recounts his coming-of-age, marriage, and the birth of his daughter, Jugnu. While Jugnu is a young girl in the 1960s, Jadu temporarily leaves Patna to attend UC Berkeley on a Fulbright scholarship, citing as his inspiration sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who climbed Mt. Everest to move from “misery to prosperity.” In the novel’s second part, set after Jadu’s death in 2020, Jugnu, who is now a journalist in Atlanta, attempts to write his obituary. The occasion prompts her to reexamine the trajectory of her father’s life from country boy to city man, and reflect on how it mirrors her own quest to reinvent herself by leaving Patna to study at Emory University. A stunning final chapter sheds new light on their stories with a revelation about their genealogy. Kumar excels at blending mysticism and a refined cosmopolitan perspective, and the twinned stories offer an intriguing testament to the book’s epigraph, which comes from Janet Malcolm: “No story is told exactly the same way twice.” Readers will find much to savor. (Feb.)