A State of Freedom
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*Selected as a 2017 Book of the Year in the Guardian, New Statesman and The Irish Times*
‘A brave and frequently devastating novel whose themes of displacement and dehumanisation are all too timely’ Paul Murray
‘The most astonishing and brilliant novel I have read in a long, long time’ Hanya Yanagihara
What happens when we attempt to exchange the life we are given for something better? Can we transform the possibilities we are born into?
A State of Freedom prises open the central, defining events of our century – displacement and migration – but not as you imagine them. Five characters, in very different circumstances, from a domestic cook in Mumbai, to a vagrant and his dancing bear, and a girl who escapes terror in her home village for a new life in the city, find out the meanings of dislocation, and the desire for more.
Set in contemporary India and moving between the reality of this world and the shadow of another, this novel of multiple narratives – formally daring, fierce but full of pity – delivers a devastating and haunting exploration of the unquenchable human urge to strive for a different life.
"An extraordinary, compassionate, complex, hard-hitting wonder of a book. It is in a class of its own." -- Rose Tremain "Neel Mukherjee's breathtaking A State of Freedom is that rarest, most wonderful of things: a book both literarily dextrous, full of unforgettable scenes, images, language, and characters, as well as a furious, unsparing, clear-eyed study of how a society's gross inequities of money and power demean and deform the human condition. The most astonishing and brilliant novel I have read in a long, long time." -- Hanya Yanagihara "Fans of Neel Mukherjee expect that his books will be exceptional and once again he has produced just that. A State of Freedom is formally audacious, vividly observed, and deeply imagined. Unsentimental yet full of heart, grimly real yet mysteriously dreamlike, with characters who continue to live their complicated lives long after you've turned the last page. Just a beautiful, beautiful piece of work." -- Karen Joy Fowler "A State of Freedom is an extraordinary achievement. Subtle and multi-layered, it's a study of the brutality of social divisions, written with tremendous tenderness; a work that insists on the dignity of figures obliged to lead undignified lives. A powerful, troubling novel. The moment I finished it, I began it again." -- Sarah Waters "A State of Freedom is a novel like no other -- its prose is so rich, unequivocally precise and graceful that it allows Mukherjee to illustrate the most horrific of experiences with stunning compassion. A State of Freedom is more than a novel-it is an immersive experience. He writes like a painter, his language is his palette, one reminiscent of the late Howard Hodgkin's. Mukherjee brings to life the variation of India's cities and towns in a dense multi-layered world where modern life, by accident or intention, tears at traditions that are centuries old. Throughout we are reminded of how little power many have over their lives and of emotional and financial economies so fragile that something as small as a single egg can carry great weight." -- A.M. Homes "This is a great hymn to poor, scabby humanity-a devastating portrait of poverty and the inhumanity of the rich to the poor. A masterpiece!" -- Edmund White "an extraordinary account of the tenacious will to survive... He seeds his tales with images of unexpected beauty... Freedom here is relative, complicated, fissured and often won at another's expense" -- Siobhain Murphy * The Times * "Neel Mukherjee shows himself to be one of those contemporary authors who invites readers to make connections between seemingly disparate story strands... Combined with Mukherjee's rich realisation of the novel's individual elements, this indeterminacy makes A State of Freedom a powerful, memorable treatment of a theme too often reduced to uninvolving didacticism" -- Adam Lively * Sunday Times * "The beauty of Mukherjee's prose sucks the reader into an alternative world, where misery, deprivation and the struggle to exist another day are normal" -- John Harding * Daily Mail * "Mukherjee... homes in on the restless, the disinherited, the socially trapped... Mercilessly observant, he does not spare the reader but leavens scenes of savagery, squalor and despair with moments of rainbow vividness, all the more striking for the muddy, cacophonous backdrop from which they are brought forth... In a significant and porous work, Mukherjee gives congruence and visibility to these fractured, hidden lives" -- Catherine Taylor * New Statesman * "He does what good novelists should, which is to hold up a mirror to society and remind people that what passes for normal is often barbaric. His quiet observation is effective - and damning" * Economist * "Set in contemporary India, technically daring, deeply compassionate, it's a powerful, pertinent novel about migration and social injustice" -- Sarah Waters * Guardian * "Each story is intimate and universal, concrete and elusive... A State of Freedom is ambitious, and it succeeds on all levels" -- Eoin McNamee * Irish Times * "Narrated with the precise realism that we have come to expect of Neel Mukherjee's novels... A State of Freedom resonates with intricate and disturbing echoes... Mukherjee has created an India that is always graspable and always elusive" -- Tabish Khair * Times Literary Supplement * "In Mukherjee's hands familiar fare is elevated by his empathy for the poor and the journalistic efforts he undertakes to understand them... his best work yet... This bleak and entirely justified vision of modern India is what binds together Mukherjee's stories and indeed his oeuvre" -- Sonia Faleiro * Financial Times * "A compelling read set in contemporary India that explores the attempts of five characters, each in different circumstances, to exchange the life they are leading for something better" * Bookseller * "A brilliant novel, deeply compassionate and painterly, reminding me of Howard Hodgkin's paintings. Mukherjee brings to life the colours and sounds of a place where modern life is constantly crashing against tradition" -- AM Homes * Observer * "Bleak and beautifully written" -- Anthony Cummins * Observer * "Mukherjee's characters are so well drawn and their plights so affecting that we stop quibbling over how to categorise the book and simply lose ourselves in masterful storytelling... Random bouts of cruelty... unfold in electrifying prose" -- Malcolm Forbes * Herald * "Very powerful, very well written" -- Geoffrey Durham * Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4 * "A thing of wonder... does what a great novel should do... one of the most wonderful novels I've read for ages and ages... such wonderful high calibre writing' " -- Deborah Moggach * Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4 * "Brilliant... I couldn't put it down...everything about it rang true... so gripping, so thrilling" -- Kate Williams * Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4 * "A splendidly rich and affirmative novel" -- Allan Massie * Scotsman * "An especially searing account of state oppression and Communist terror... everything is held together by Mukherjee's wonderfully inventive prose style" -- Tanjil Rashid * Prospect * "An exceptional portrait of modern India - and one of the best novels this year" * Metro * "Mukherjee confronts us with the deranged performances of both master and slave... A State of Freedom's artfully handled piecing together of story fragments is held in tension by a counterforce of textual disintegration" -- Kate Webb * Spectator * "This novel paints a vivid picture of modern India, its beauty and its benightedness, examining the relationship between identity and migration. Mukherjee is pitch-perfect in his descriptions of Indian life and unsparing in chronicling the poverty, deprivation and superstition that blights the nation. The book's themes are important and the writing powerful, in places shocking" -- Richard Hopton * Country & Town House *
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