Y’all, I don’t really know where to start with this book. I loved it. And I don’t fully understand what I read? I devoured every word but also had a tough time picking it back up after I’d put it down. It was amazing and I am going to have a very hard time telling you why.
I did not know the backstory on this one until I was almost through, but twenty years ago, the author Arundhati Roy broke onto the scene with her debut novel, The God of Small Things. It won major awards, seems to have attracted as much praise as backlash, and catapulted Roy into a place she didn’t appear to want to be. She saw her star rise as more as an Indian woman Western society deemed attractive than as a writer and she wasn’t okay with that. She pulled back, pursued a career as an on-the-ground activist and didn’t publish again until this one.
It is absolutely worth the read and no summary will do it justice. In essence it is a novel that takes place against the backdrop of the last twenty years of history of India and Pakistan, with a focus on Kashmir, the ongoing fights between the two nations, and the often violent conflict demarcated by religion. It’s a brutal background that’s as much a part of the story as any one character, and a background I know so very little about. I honestly want to educate myself and reread this one.
Three paragraphs in and I haven’t addressed the plot. The book essentially has two plots that gradually intersect and merge. We begin with Anjum, a Hirja (essentially what we would call a transwoman, though she differentiates between the two) finding, establishing, and evolving in her own community. She is a Muslim in a time and place where it is safer to be Hindu. The outside world is changing rapidly as she develops her own spaces and family. I’m not doing it justice.
Our other protagonist is Tilo who over the years evolves from student to professional to psuedo-activist in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time. Three men revolve like planets around her story–engaging, interacting, and then fading away as they approach the far ellipse of their orbit.
I am not going to do this justice and this book deserves far more than I gave it as either a reviewer or a reader. I highly recommend you research the intertwining histories of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir, and then devote a solid 48 hours to curling around this one, absorbing every word.