A Play for the End of the World


* Winner: National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction

NEW YORK CITY, 1972. Jaryk Smith, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Lucy Gardener, a free-spirited southerner who is newly arrived in the city, are in the first bloom of love when they receive word that Jaryk’s oldest friend from childhood has died under mysterious circumstances in a village in eastern India. Travelling there alone to collect his friend’s ashes, Jaryk soon finds himself enmeshed in the chaos of local politics and efforts to stage a play in protest against the government—the same play, written by the revered Bengali author Rabindranath Tagore, that Jaryk performed as a child in Warsaw as an act of resistance against the Nazis. Torn between the survivor’s guilt he has carried for decades and his feelings for Lucy, Jaryk must decide how to honor both the past and the present, and how to accept a happiness he is not sure he deserves. An unforgettable love story, a provocative exploration of the role of art in times of political upheaval, and a deeply moving reminder of the power of the past to shape the present, A Play for the End of the World is a remarkable debut from an exciting new voice in fiction.


A Play for the End of the World looks deeply at the echoes and overlaps among art, resistance,love, and history. Jai Chakrabarti is a lyrical writer, and this is an impressive debut.” —Meg Wolitzer, best-selling author of The Female Persuasion

“Like Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Lowland,’ Chakrabarti explores his flawed, bewildered characters’ fine-grained emotional shifts when confronted with confusing, violent political movements. Both novels are woven with political history and, in particular, the influence of Communism and far-left Naxalites in what is now the state of Bengal. Both authors circle around a pivotal ‘moment’ in which everything changed. These novelists are, at their hearts, elegists for time gone by.” –Washington Post

“Will honoring past loyalties sabotage those of the present and future? As the novel moves between Lucy in America and Jaryk in India, with interludes that return to the Warsaw ghetto, we come to understand Jaryk’s guilt-stricken `need to burrow into oblivion` — and to hope that another need will somehow uproot it.” –NY Times

“[A] heart-wrenching yet hopeful debut. . . . The back-and-forth in the relationship and the ending are both worth savoring, and so is the reflection on the role of art and love in survival.” —The Atlantic

“Time, geographies and backgrounds all seem to flow effortlessly through Jai Chakrabarti’s exquisite debut novel. Chakrabarti creates a gorgeous international, intercultural mosaic…. That intimate engagement promises sublime insights about survival, everlasting guilt, the many layers of longing and the challenges of learning to love.” – Shelf Awareness

“Chakrabarti’s prose, like Tagore’s verse, is pro­found­ly sen­si­tive, fresh, and beau­ti­ful as he nav­i­gates the large themes that run through the book: the fragili­ty of mem­o­ry, as well as its pow­er, the haunt­ing way in which a split sec­ond deci­sion can change the course of a life, and the pow­er of art to change lives.” – Jewish Book Council

“Chakrabarti’s absorbing debut is an ode to art, friendship, and love… At its heart this is a love story, and literary readers not used to cheering for a happy ending may find themselves doing just that.” —Booklist

“The historical performance of a Tagore play by a group of children in a 1942 Warsaw Ghetto orphanage inspired this arresting debut… This trenchant story will move readers.” –Publisher’s Weekly

“There’s nothing like losing a loved one to inspire a critical look at the idea of strictly linear time, and from there, a flirtation with the idea of parallel universes. Such speculative exercises are usually the domain of sci-fi, but Jai Chakrabarti’s A Play for the End of the World manages to elicit a similar effect while remaining in the realm of literary realism. . . . The love between friends, the struggle to survive a relentless state, and the art that aids that struggle bring many lives into an eternal present.” —The Paris Review

“Chakrabarti’s novel is… breathtakingly poignant, with a payoff that’s more than worth the trip if you have the heart to withstand it.” –Bookpage

“In this beautiful, deeply imagined first novel Jai Chakrabarti combines widely disparate moments of the twentieth century: 1970s New York, the Warsaw Ghetto, a pilgrimage to India. In the heat of his art these very different elements are melted down and forged into something suspiciously like hope.” —John Benditt, author of The Boatmaker, winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction

“An exceptional work of fiction. Expertly plotted and masterfully crafted, A Play for the End of the World is an unforgettable song that honors millions of lives lost due to genocide and political oppression. Already an award-winning short story writer, Jai Chakrabarti pens with the economic intensity and the power of observation that resurrects the past and shines the light of understanding onto the present and future. I could not put this book down!” —Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, internationally best-selling author of The Mountains Sing

“Spanning continents and generations, Jai Chakrabarti’s A Play for the End of the World is about love, art, performance, and the enduring weight of history. It’s a beautiful, engrossing novel.” —Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You and Morningside Heights

“Elegantly constructed and deeply moving, this stunning debut novel is a meditation on the emotional costs of survival, the role of art in desperate circumstances, and the redemptive possibilities of love. Jai Chakrabarti writes with poetic precision, psychological acuity, and great compassion.” —Amy Gottlieb, author of The Beautiful Possible

“Dazzling in its scope, uplifting in its vision, heart-wrenching in its intertwined narratives of trauma and survival, Jai Chakrabarti’s A Play for the End of the World spans three continents and three decades in the life of Jaryk Smith, a Holocaust survivor whose journey is a testament to human resilience and an affirmation of the idea that art can save lives.” —Elizabeth Gaffney, author of When the World Was Young and Metropolis

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