Two Lives tells the remarkable story of Vikram Seth's great uncle and aunt. His great uncle, Shanti, left India for medical school in Berlin in the 1930s and lodged with a German Jewish family. In the household was a daughter, Henny, who urged her mother "not to take the blackie". But a friendship developed and each managed to leave Germany and found their way to Britain as the Nazis rose to power. Shanti joined the army and lost his right arm at the battle of Monte Cassino, while Henny (whose family were to die in the camps) made a life for herself in her adopted country. After the war they married and lived a life in north London where Shanti, despite the loss of his arm, became a much-loved dentist.
During his own adolescence in England, Vikram Seth lived with Shanti and Henny and came to know and love them deeply. His is the third life in this story of Two Lives.
This is also a book about history, encompassing as it does many of the most significant themes and events in the 20th century, whose currents are reflected in the lives of Shanti, Henny, and their family: from the Raj and the Indian freedom movement to the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and British postwar society.