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Book Review | The Promise and Tragedy of a Utopian Community, as Seen by One of Its Own


The amphitheater and giant sphere at Auroville.
The amphitheater and giant sphere at Auroville. Credit... Nadia Loury

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BETTER TO HAVE GONE Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville By Akash Kapur

Utopia’s finest hour, Akash Kapur writes in “Better to Have Gone,” is the very beginning, “when the dream remains unsullied.” The phrase has the ring of preordainment: From the heights of a vision, there is nowhere to go but down.

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As it does — viciously then tragically — in his memoir, which is also a group biography, the investigation of a mystery, a meditation on searching and faith, and an act of love. Kapur’s main subject is Auroville, a 53-year-old intentional community in southern India where both he and his wife, Auralice, were raised, and where, in 1986, her mother and adoptive father died. The murky circumstances of their deaths shadow Kapur’s marriage, all the more when he and Auralice move back to Auroville in 2004. There her parents’ fates have been transmuted into a mix of legend, theory and gossip, even as their bodies lie in unmarked graves. Kapur decides (with his wife’s help, though she is not credited as an author) to excavate the past. Knowledge, he hopes, might bring peace.

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