Like Dave Eggers' Zeitoun and Alexander Masters' Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage—an intimate portrait of an invisible man.
Mohammed Ashraf studied biology in college, and after college he learned how to repair television sets, cut suit lengths, and slice chicken. He has lived in Mumbai, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Surat, and Patna, but this evening he is stoned on a street in Sadar Bazaar in North Delhi. The morning shall bring hangovers, whiskey breakfasts, and possibly answers to the lingering questions that haunt Ashraf. How did he get here? Why is he the way he is? And is there a way back home?
In this compelling account of the life of an itinerant laborer, Aman Sethi brings Ashraf vividly alive and illuminates the lives of countless others like him. Wry, humorous, and insightful, A Free Man is an unforgettable portrait of an invisible man in his invisible city.
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"Indian non-fiction is, in fact, in a much healthier state than Indian fiction. A Free Man is one of the most compelling arguments for this hypothesis. It lays bare the world of the Delhi itinerant labourer, but never gets lost in idle rhapsodising or armchair politics. What it does instead is to lose itself into the rhythms of its subject- this is about Md. Ashraf the mazdoor, not Aman Sethi the writer. Special mention must be made of the excpetional use of language in the book- while it's obvious that Sethi can write the breathtaking sentences when he wants to, he lets Ashraf and his fellow mazdoors take centrestage, lets their language, with its indulgences, its colloquilisms and its non-sequiturs take over. A memorable read indeed."
Aditya (4 out of 5 stars)