Friday, March 02, 2012

My Love for Jahnavi Barua's Writing

I picked up Next Door in a bookstore once and looked at the back curiously. I bought it because it had stories from Assam. I was totally unprepared for the beauty that hit me when I started reading.

Next Door is a collection of short stories, all set in Assam and most in Guwahati. And this biased me, I confess. Just seeing the familiar places mentioned, the almost-forgotten food, the sprinkled Assamese words... caused little stabs of nostalgia. I wanted to go back to Assam, go visit the places in the book, but that's impossible, for those places existed in a time as well as in a space.

Every character felt so familiar, like I had known them a long time ago. The one exception was a character who wasn't Indian and looked like a stereotype (the white woman who expects too much from her relationship and is therefore unhappy).

I cannot even begin to explain the magic Barua's writing has on me: I seem to dissolve into an incoherent mass if I try. (It was a relief, yesterday, to chat with a friend from Assam who also loves her books. Not that you won't like them if you're not from there. But for us, every Assamese word, every mention of a landmark or an area we knew, was special. For the first time, we read writing in English--hauntingly beautiful writing--that portrayed our childhoods, our lost spaces.)

Yet, I put away Next Door right in the middle of a story, and didn't pick it up again for months. Even while I was reading, I didn't devour the book like I normally do: I read one story or two at a time, and put it away for the next day.

Why? Because the stories are so sad. Each one had me crying: and not merely tears of nostalgia. At a few, I sniffled and kept on reading. At some, I cried so much I had to stop to wipe my face.

Most stories in the book have a death. Most of the few remaining stories also have so much sadness in them. The story would reel me in with nostalgia and a sympathetic character, and then punch me in the gut.

(And I don't mean that as criticism. I whole-heartedly recommend the book! Just keep a towel handy if you're, like me, prone to crying.)

So when I saw Jahnavi Barua had a novel out, I asked Aparna, the editor of Women's Web, if I could review it. Here's the review.

I loved  Rebirth too. I shouldn't have. It's the story of a neglected housewife, a woman so submissive she obeys her cheating, mostly-absent husband when he tells her to host dinner for his friends. Yet Kaberi is so heart-achingly human, such an endearing mixture of naivete and determination, that I couldn't help wanting to know her better.

Read my review, but more than that, read the books.

The links to Next Door are Flipkart affiliate links.


Babita said...

I read about her in Times of India when she got some award.. then I looked in to the book, and I totally agree with you. I fall in love with her writing and cried a bucket.. I have not gone thorugh the "rebirth" yet, but expecting it to be with me by tomorrow..From your review i am sure I will love it either..

Unmana said...

Babita: Thanks for commenting. I should write about books more often, if only because it opens conversations with other readers about those books, and that is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Mention of Jahnvai, made me delurk again. She has really evolved as a writer. I am proud of her and her achievements. I preferred Rebirth to Next Door, although the story of the elderly man striking a bond with the young boy next door was just too much to bear.

Unmana said...

Sukanya: Thanks for delurking! And I really loved that story. You know, I couldn't decide which book I like better. I do think Rebirth was a little more mature, a little more well-crafted. But Next Door was so beautiful and heart-wrenching, it had more impact on me.

Anonymous said...

I think I should add her to my "to-be-read-list". Nice post!

Unmana said...

Visions: Yes, you should. EVERYONE should.