British academic and human rights activist Preti Taneja has packed her debut novel with so much insight and feeling for contemporary India that her sentences seem to spill out as if from an overstuffed bag. It’s a marvel that she was able to pack in so much (plot, atmosphere, social observation, you name it) while sustaining such propulsive energy over the course of nearly 500 pages, and yet she manages to the last. The overall effect is dizzying, dazzling, and ultimately convincing and immersive ... Taneja captures her sprawling subject in language befitting such epic sweep. She stuffs her prose with metaphor and simile, which can be a bit much at times, but more often than not serves to ground this novel of big ideas in the physical world ... Taneja proves that nothing more than feelings—particularly when wielded by demented oligarchs and their misguided children—have the power to bring the world crashing down.
It’s a doorstop, full of sound and fury, more nihilistic than Shakespeare’s original, with all the blunt and dismal machinations of a soap opera. It’s not a subtle novel ... Taneja’s very busy book...leaves little room for the reader to experience the strange, shifting identifications the original play makes possible, the way we can turn from pitying Lear to loathing him ... The narrative is easy enough to track, but where is the emotional truth of the story? We get motifs instead, grist for a dozen stimulating term papers: the inheritance of historical trauma, the unresolved repercussions of Partition, vivid examples of Bakhtin’s theory of the carnival ... On a sentence level, the book is a shambles. Exposition is meted out in clunky dialogue; themes are announced in portentous, nonsensical mantras ... Although you can sense the influence of Bret Easton Ellis and Martin Amis in Taneja’s broad characterizations of her villains, they lack the savagery and panache. She is fatally attracted to syrupy metaphors and has a tin ear when it comes to humor ... we rarely meld with the consciousness of the characters. The author keeps elbowing them out of the way to telegraph her contempt for them, their venality, their obscene wealth. Still, Taneja is a writer of considerable energy and invention. She is unflinching when it comes to the world she conjures ... It's when she ceases strenuously 'writing'...and begins to ask questions of her characters and herself, that we get an entirely original take on Lear.
What is so painfully accurate throughout Taneja’s book is the abyss between India’s excessively, unimaginably wealthy and the dehumanization of the country’s most impoverished ... Taneja has skilfully and knowledgably drawn her network of literary references (not just to Lear but also to Hindu scripture, Dante, the Sufi poet Kabir, and, beautifully, to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway) over the political tremors of modern India ... Structurally, what is perhaps most frustrating to the modern reader of King Lear is most satisfying in Taneja’s reimagining. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, only Lear himself seems to have any interiority... Taneja’s novel, however, gives readers a craved-for reality underneath these accessories to the king’s tragedy ... Taneja’s novel is brave and compulsively readable. Her scholarly background in literature and her work as a human rights reporter and filmmaker combine a deep ethics with a keen understanding of human nature, both its dignity and depravity. The absolute mastery of her narrative style and the precision of her language is unforgettable ... We That Are Young’s restaging of the core conundrums of Shakespeare’s tragedy in the light of global capitalism, in an era of competing superpowers, where truth and loyalty, too, comes at a price, will haunt readers for many generations to come.
Linguistic multiplicity is an important part of the dialogue, and while not all readers will be able to parse the (pleasingly unitalicised) Hindi, it’s appropriately wrong-footing, and another instance in which the novel is worlds away from the kind of book that permits only an exotic sprinkling of swear words and familial terms. The naturalistic dialogue is also a brilliant counterpoint to the flat, present-tense style Taneja repeatedly employs, in which the characters are like goods for sale, laid out by an advertiser to excite our interest. Interiors and clothes, the possessions that possess us, are exhaustively detailed, blurring the boundaries between active and passive, human and inanimate ... Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement bemoans the lack of contemporary fiction addressing this biggest of subjects, but it’s practically another character here, from the freak storm which forces Devraj to take shelter among slum dwellers, to the prototype eco-car, funded by the Company’s rotten tax gains, which he uses as a sop to Sita’s green activism. This is not a polemical novel; it is too finely crafted, and too aware of the impossibility of purity, for that. Instead, Taneja has given us that rarest of beasts, a page-turner that’s also unabashedly political—with the complex, ambiguous, fiercely felt politics of our time.
Ms. Taneja captures the sense of chaos but not the moments of heartbreak. Fractious, voluble and often spiced with snatches of untranslated Hindi, her writing is most at home in denunciation and invective ... Madness simmers from the opening pages, often boiling over into incoherence. This is frustrating—the novel is long and at times difficult to follow—yet the feeling of barely restrained mania seems suited to the subject ... King Lear makes a shrewd metaphor for the country’s generational revolt. Ms. Taneja portrays an India in which 'the old eat their young and the young whip their elders all wearing the birth masks of respect.' Money is the agent of insanity. There’s a lot of it out there, and this ambitious, unwieldy novel chronicles the scramble for the spoils.
Reading King Lear in advance will provide a more immersive experience ... like Shakespeare, Taneja can write both poetically and downright crudely—sometimes on the same page. Her language encompasses a wide spectrum ranging from colloquial English to whole sentences of romanized Hindi to the modern compressions used on social media. Whatever the mode, Taneja’s prose is always intense, detailed and engrossing. Readers will feel the touch of a five-star hotel’s feather pillow as vividly as they smell the sewers of an industrial town’s slum tenements ... We That are Young is also about broken dreams: specifically the betrayal of one generation by its children and more generally the realization that the promises of capitalism haven’t come true for everyone ... Taneja’s message to those that are young: if you don’t like the way things are, now is the time to get up and change them.
How best to acknowledge the ingenuity of this novel without making it sound like a niche literary interest? ... while it might sound like a literary experiment, it turns out to be one of the most original and exquisite novels of the year ... First, though, it is an excellent King Lear ... The prose is full of linguistic echoes of Lear, and Taneja seems determined to show that there is nothing of Shakespeare’s that she can’t make relevant and alive. In this sense, the shift to India is revelatory. There is something unique about modern India, and the way it occupies a space at once exotic and familiar, that has the extraordinary effect, by adding distance, of bringing Shakespeare closer, of making Lear more real ... the basti, a Delhi slum: the tattered clothes and flimsy shelters of its destitute inhabitants bring Shakespeare’s 'loop’d and window’d raggedness' to tragic life ... her immersive present tense takes a story we know and makes it urgent and irresistible. This is a new voice, vivid, full of imagery and pace, and with a richness to match the vibrancy of its world.
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 ... 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 ... 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.
The register is dramatic and the language poetic, but the novel (like the play, I think) tries the patience. By the fourth act, you’re fidgeting, waiting for the characters to start dying ... The book shouldn’t be evaluated on its fidelity to the source material, but Taneja’s attentiveness deserves credit ... It’s sometimes more Bret Easton Ellis than the Bard. But Taneja also has fun toying with the exuberance of Indian English ... The author has a point to make, but Shakespeare’s tragedies have inevitable conclusions. The novel has flaws. It is far too long, often repetitive and discursive, with a pitch that sometimes approaches the manic ... Still, it’s marvelous to watch Taneja, a woman, play with a text in which the women are atrocious. She’s no easier on these characters than Shakespeare was, redeeming none, so the last laugh is hers.
While the two eldest daughters jockey for position in the midst of their own personal unhappiness, the youngest and favorite remains mostly offstage, creating uncertainty about what will become of both the Company and the family. Taneja deftly exposes the stark contrast between the Twitter-saturated media narrative surrounding the rich and powerful, and the reality of their actions. Multilayered and densely structured, We That Are Young offers a fresh take on a timeless tale.
Every now and then, a writer grabs you in the first paragraph and doesn't let go. Such is the case with Taneja, whose stunning debut brims with familial jealousy, sexual tension, political turmoil, and shocking violence ... Taneja writes with a passion and verve that reflects her human rights reporter and filmmaker background. Highly recommended for socially conscious readers
While remaining close to Shakespeare’s plot points, she offers a portrait of modern India both panoramic and complex ... Short chapters of Devraj speaking directly to the reader are interspersed throughout, and the plot follows his rapid mental and physical decline while Radhi and Gargi battle for control of his empire. Taneja’s intricate, literary prose is heavy in both detail and reflection. This is a work of epic scope and depth that’s bracingly of the current moment.
Issues of gender and generation spearhead the conflict in this mammoth drama of money, succession, and control, British-born Taneja’s impressive first work of fiction. Pulsing with vitality, it ranges widely ... [a] dreamy synthesis of language, place, food, clashing views and values, seeping Westernization, and post-colonial flux ... A long, challenging, but inspired modernization of a classic—engaging, relevant, and very dark.