This is a strange book, written with considerable charm and plenty of gorgeous detail, but difficult in many ways to get a handle on. The life referred to in the title is not Philip Hensher’s own, but that of his husband, Zaved Mahmood, who was born in Dacca in 1970, when the city was still a regional capital in Pakistan. A few months after his birth, however, the country was torn apart by a brutal civil war, in the course of which up to three million people were killed. Eastern Pakistan seceded from the rest of the country, and emerged as Bangladesh.
Scenes from Early Life begins as a series of vignettes about Zaved’s early childhood and family background, as narrated by him. He tells us, for example, about the chicken he kept as a pet, and his horror when one of his grandfather’s servants cooked it for dinner one evening; and