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.