Beautifully written and structured, deeply moving, and realised in wise, thoughtful, chiselled prose... It is that br>rarity: a genuine non-fiction classic' William Dalrymple a spellbinding story about love, faith, the search for utopia - and the often devastating cost of idealism. It’s the late 1960s, and two lovers converge on an arid patch of Earth in South India. John Walker is the handsome scion of a powerful East Coast American family. Diane maes is a beautiful hippie from Belgium. They have come to build a new world - br>Auroville, an international utopian community for thousands of people. Their faith is strong, the future bright. So how do John and Diane end up dying two decades later, on the same day, on a cracked concrete floor in a thatch hut by a remote Canyon? This is the mystery br>
Akash Kapur sets out to solve in better to have gone, and it carries deep personal resonance: Diane and John were the parents of Akash’s wife, auralice. Br>
akash and auralice grew up in br>Auroville; like the rest of their community, they never really understood those deaths. In 2004, br>
Akash and auralice return to br>Auroville from New York, where they have been living with John’s family. As they re-establish themselves, along with their two sons, in the community, they must confront the ghosts of those distant deaths. Slowly, they come to understand how the tragic individual fates of John and Diane intersected with the collective history of their town. Better to have gone is a book about the human cost of our age-old quest for a more perfect world. It probes the under-explored yet universal idea of utopia, and it portrays in vivid detail the daily life of one utopian community. Richly atmospheric and filled with remarkable characters, spread across time and continents, this is narrative writing of the highest order - a heart-breaking, unforgettable story.
'A forensic reconstruction of two deaths set against the background of a tropical utopia. It is beautifully written and structured, deeply moving, and realised in wise, thoughtful, chiselled prose. It tells an extraordinary tale of a paradise lost, and of the dangers of utopian naivety: what happens when dreams collide with harsh reality. Like In Cold Blood, it is that rarity: a genuine non-fiction classic.'– William Dalrymple, author of The Anarchy
'This beautifully written account ... is fascinating in describing the efforts of people...to carve out a sustainable community in such a forbidding environment. But it becomes more fascinating still when it begins to explore the contradictions between idealism and real life.'– Mick Brown, Sunday Telegraph
'Using the framework of a personal historical quest, Akash Kapur gives us a gripping morality tale, phosphorescent and unsettling, of the cruelty that accompanies utopia.'– Jeet Thayil, Booker shortlisted author of Narcopolis
'A haunting, heartbreaking story, deeply researched and lucidly told, with an almost painful emotional honesty... I kept wanting to read Better to Have Gone because I found it so gripping; I kept wanting not to read it because I found it so upsetting. Better to Have Gone ends with an unexpected lightness, even transcendence, as Kapur helps us see what Auroville has given him, gives him still, despite the pain.'– Amy Waldman, New York Times
'Spellbinding and otherworldly, Better to Have Gone is an exquisite literary achievement. With graceful, luminous prose, Akash Kapur's intimate account of utopian Auroville is entrancing, devastating and unforgettable. Above all, this book is a hauntingly beautiful love story, composed by a writer in full command of his craft.'– Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove
'Akash Kapur has written a trenchant, nuanced account of the longing for a perfect world. Working from personal experience and a writer’s profound curiosity, he takes us deep into the heart of an intentional community’s ambitions and failures. This is an important work about the eternal human desire for utopia, and about the dystopia that always lurks within these dreams.'– Vikram Chandra, author of Sacred Games
'Haunting...a harrowing quest to understand the blinkered idealism that led to [his parents-in-law's] deaths, on the same day, in 1986'– Financial Times
'In this compulsively readable account, Akash Kapur ... unravels a mystery whose players are yogis and hippies, Tamil villagers and a disaffected son of the American elite. Kapur’s great achievement is to narrate a personal tragedy with such generosity and insight that it becomes a love story - one that doesn’t shy from the passionate idealism or devastating failures of sixties utopianism.'– Nell Freudenberger, author of Lost and Wanted and The Newlyweds
'This gripping, magical, deeply moving book is a story of stubborn, self-sacrificing idealism - both its beauty and its cost. Akash Kapur set out to understand the visionary lives and terrible deaths of his wife’s parents in Auroville, the South Indian utopian community where he and she grew up... It is exhilarating to read about a place and time where utopia seemed not just possible but close.'– Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help
'An enlightening look at how a well-meaning utopian community in India became complicated by reality. In a propulsive narrative, [Kapur] chronicles the story of John Walker and Diane Maes, the parents of his wife, Auralice, who left their homes in the waning days of the hippie movement for South India’s idealistic “planned city” Auroville... Expect the unexpected in this riveting story.'– Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Akash Kapur is the author of India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India and the editor of an anthology, Auroville: Dream and Reality. He is the former Letter from India columnist for the New York Times, the recipient of a Whiting Grant, and has written for various leading publications in the UK, USA and India. He grew up in Auroville and returned there to live with his family after being educated in the USA and UK, where he received a doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.