Better To Have Gone

Love, Death and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville

Better To Have Gone
Akash Kapur
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' Beautifully written and structured, deeply moving, and realised in wise, thoughtful, chiselled prose. . . it is that rarity: a genuine non-fiction classic' William Dalrymple From Whiting Award winner Akash Kapur, a transfixing masterwork that probes an unsolved family mystery and portrays a utopian community striving to create a better world. The quest to build utopia has a long history; in the 1960s, hopes surged as seekers from around the planet founded communities that they hoped would provide alternatives for a strife-torn world. One such community was Auroville, located on a weather-beaten landscape of hard clay and palm trees in coastal South India. Akash Kapur' s stunning book is about what happened when a beautiful young rebel from Belgium, Diane Maes, and a scion from a powerful American family, John Walker, met in Auroville: how they became drawn into the community' s tumultuous history, and why they died - shockingly, tragically - on the same day. Founded in 1968 by a French woman known as ' The Mother' , Auroville is an aspiring spiritual utopia seeking to reinvent money, government, education and ecology. Now home to 3,000 residents, it is one of the longest-lasting and largest intentional communities in the world. After Diane' s death, her daughter Auralice was taken in by John' s family, in New York City. She later married Akash, who himself grew up in Auroville. Auralice' s understanding of Diane' s and John' s deaths had always been hazy. It was only when Akash and Auralice moved back some thirty years later to Auroville, where they started their own family, that they began to unravel the mysteries that had surrounded those events. Better to Have Gone blends memoir, history, sociology and politics. It probes the universal idea of utopia, and it portrays in vivid detail the daily life of one particular utopian community. Above all, it is a love story about two doomed and idealistic dreamers. Richly atmospheric and filled with remarkable characters, the book explores timeless questions about faith, idealism, spiritual exploration, as well as the extremism into which these noble impulses so often descend. Spread across time and continents, this is narrative writing of the highest order, a heartbreaking, 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 ' 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 ' 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 ' 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
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 international New York Times, the recipient of a Whiting Grant, and has written for various leading publications. He grew up in Auroville and returned there to live with his family after boarding school and college in America.