A State of Freedom is a novel, but it does feel like a collection of longer short stories, until you start making connections between the characters. A pair of rural twins who had made different choices but found essentially similar destinies surface here and there, we learn the backstory of the silent maid who works for the expat’s mother in another story. And then, the bear. Oh, the bear. Anyway, it’s the right amount of work to feel satisfied but also so well done that you do not get confused.
It’s rare that a book affects me physically but the end of the first part of A State of Freedom was like a jolt of electricity through my limbs. I couldn’t wait to read further, and got through the book really quickly. But it wasn’t a conventional quick read: it’s just that Mukherjee’s language is so hypnotizing, and his characters’s lives are so dense with hurt and desperation, that it’s like watching a car crash, hard to peel the eyes away. By the end of the last part, I had been jolted many more times.
I am of the utmost conviction that books must have social consequence, and I find it rare for a writer to maintain the balance between that and beautiful prose. Mukherjee is a master at both, and he doesn’t sacrifice his politics for amazing writing, or form for function. I really hope he gets that Man Booker one day. And because it was my first Neel Mukherjee, I can’t wait to read more novels by him.
A State of Freedom: A Novel by Neel Mukherjee
Published by W. W. Norton in 2017