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Masterly Crafted Words Give Poetic Quality to Story of a Woman’s Fight For Meaning to a Dreary Existence

Book Title: These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light

Author: Dharini Bhaskar

Published by: Hachette India

Fiction: Literary Fiction

Book summary:

Until now, Deeya has found an unquiet contentment in the memories of her affair with an older man and in a spare but tolerable marriage. Then, Neil comes into her life, offering a heady romance and a new identity. Will Deeya give their fledgling relationship a chance?

Perhaps the seeds of her answer have already been sown by her family – by her grandmother and mother, both of whom have been compelled to make complex negotiations with love.

As Deeya confronts their stories, she must decide: Will she upend her family’s history and build a narrative of her own? Or is she – as are all of us – destined to carry forward the concessions and mutinies of our ancestors?

Refreshing in its vision and assured in its craft, These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light is a remarkable debut about (un)sanctioned memory, uncommon love, and the claims of familial history.

About the author:

Dharini Bhasker has been the Editorial Director of Simon and Schuster India and one of five young Indian writers selected for Caravan’s Writers of India Festival, Paris. She has been published in an anthology, Day’s End Stories. These Our Bodies Possessed by Light is her debut novel.

My Review

The tittle references Richard Silken’s poem ‘Scheherazade’, a name that is integral to the Arabian Nights, the name of the woman wedded to a distrusting King who must tell a story each night to hold the interest of her husband to save her life. What follows in this inter generational narrative of women and their lives is intertwined to how stories are as much about what is written in literature – in novels and in poetry, but also about the stories that each of us imagine and embellish to fill in the dreary landscape of our existence.

Deeya is the main protagonist and narrator, someone who has loved words and books and who time and again imagines not just the lives of her grandmother, mother and her two older sisters but how they are negotiating their way in their relationships with the men in their lives. She is in many ways the restless soul that lies within each one of us seeking meaning, seeking vitality, seeking incandescence in life while we remain struggling with the weight of humdrum existence, the people around us who enter by sleight and then leave. Deeya’s reflections on the lifetimes of her grandmother and mother before her, their attempts at love on one hand and her two sisters and herself on the other is her way of looking at the intent and purpose of relationships, of ties that bind and break unbidden.

These Bodies Possessed by Light is foremost an ode to words, how they can be strung together with a deft hand, carefully threading them to give away just a bit; how they can make or break connections and conversations, some stilted, some keeping certain things hidden, some enticing, some seductive, some alluring, some untruthful and mostly hiding more than they ought to. This isn’t so much about the story or the plot as much as how the narrative brings together the beauty and magic of literature and art that is birthed by fallible people who fail those around them, how their artistic creation gives succor to others while inching out those closest to them, exiling them to often barren loneliness after occupying a central importance. Deeya’s father for instance, in the parts that are mentioned about him leaves his family to paint perhaps while the older man that she falls for, an author who grasps passion and feeling in his words and those of others isn’t much of a better person in the relationship.

The non-linear narration and the part where Deeya’s version of how things unfolded for her grandmother differing from that of her sister’s brings a Roshomon like feel, how stories differ when told by different people at different times. It is a clever nod to the central place that writers and storytellers occupy along with the characters and the world they create. This is a book that a reader will want to revisit and ponder over but also a book that is not meant for every one.

These Our Bodies Possessed by Light has been Shortlisted for the JCB Literary Prize for 2020.

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