In late 1970 a boy named Saadi is born into a large, defiantly Bengali family in eastern Pakistan. Months later the country splits in two, in what will become one of the most ferocious twentieth-century civil wars. Saadi tells the story of his childhood and of the ingenious ways his family survived the violence and conflicts: from his aunts stuffing him endlessly with sweets to stop marauding soldiers from hearing him cry, to street games based on American television shows; from the basement compartment his grandfather built to hide his treasured books, pictures, and music until after the war, to the daily gossip about each and every one of the relatives, servants, and neighbors. Scenes from Early Life is a beautifully detailed novel of profound empathy—an attempt to capture the collective memory of a family and a country.
At once heartbreaking and surprisingly funny, Scenes from Early Life is based on the life of Philip Hensher’s husband, and as such it is at once a memoir, a novel, and a history. As this remarkable writer brings the past to life, we come to feel, vividly and viscerally, that Saadi’s family—and its struggles and triumphs—are our own.
"A richly depicted saga of childhood joys and sorrows . . . This is [Hensher’s] most purely pleasurable novel to date." —Michael Arditti, The Daily Mail
"A book suffused with tenderness, yet altogether free from sentimentality. One feels the writing has been a labour of love. Perhaps this is why the experience of reading it is so delightful." —Allan Massie, The Scotsman