On Books & Reviews

When you want to feel slightly ‘uncomfortable’

The Discomfort of EveningThe Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘I’ll even dare to take off my coat. Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.’

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s debut novel ‘The Discomfort of Evening’ will have you shifting around your seat right from the word go. Narrated from the eyes of Jas, a 12-year-old girl, the book shares the pain of grieving and the darkness your soul can descend to, if not helped in time.

Jas loses her elder brother Matties in a skating incident and what follows after is the family’s coping mechanism with this loss. Each one reacts to the incident differently and tries to find their way out. While the children are left rudderless as their parents are consumed in grief over the loss of their son, the children band together trying to move out, both of their emotional and physical space.

What keeps you turning page after age is the lyrical descriptions of remembrance, grief, darkness and death. There is nothing pleasant about the book, so don’t go into it thinking it would make you feel any better. But if you are finding a hard time to put words to the loss, emptiness and utter despair you feel, go right ahead.

It is said, that the translator becomes invisible when you don’t feel like the work you are reading was written in another language. So kudos to Michele Hutchison for bringing this unsettling piece of work to English readers.

Note: If sexual exploration is a trigger for you, you might want to tread cautiously.

On Books & Reviews

The dignity of old age

The Music of Solitude by Krishna Sobti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Much later she thought, I could have phoned and thanked him. No. Let this remain unsaid. I’m feeling special. I’ve just received the flowers of narcissus for a gift. These bloom on the mountains where silence swims in the air.’

Having sat on the review for almost a month and thinking and rethinking about the novel, I don’t find a more apt and lyrical paragraph in the entire book like the one above…

Translated by Vasudha Dalmia as The Music of Solitude, Krishna Sobti’s Samay Sargam is the story of Aranya and Ishan – neighbours in a Delhi complex but diametrically opposite to each other. Aranya is a feisty writer, living life on her own terms, vocal, impulsive and rebellious while Ishan is calm, disciplined, respect social norms and believes in the family institution despite having no one who calls on him.

The novel revolves around their daily lives and their little interactions. How each one is content in their own cocoon yet dependant on the other for emotional comfort. The beauty of the novel is that at no moment do you feel pity for these two for being alone or ‘deserted’. They are alone but they are definitely not lonely. They enjoy their space and solitude, they even need it to sail them through the last years of their lives.

To truly understand this, you need to see Aranya and Ishan in contrast to the elderly friends they visit regularly – the old widow, the former charismatic writer or the old man who was having an affair. Each saddened, bound by social norms and restricted by their children in contrast to these two highly functional emotional beings. It’s at that moment you decide how you want to grow old. Do you want to be like Aranya or Ishan, independent, happy or do you want to die worrying what the world thinks of you or what your family has reduced you to?

The sense of dignity in old age is what I admire about the novel and I believe that every young person who lives with or has ageing parents should read this once.

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