This book took me by surprise. I often go into books not really knowing much about them. And this one I knew absolutely nothing about at all. I could tell by the author’s name that she was South Asian and I wondered what the flowers and the title meant.
From the first chapter, we know that this is not a happy story. The narrator, a woman aged 30, talks about a man who vanished from his home in the mountains, a man who vanished partly because of her, because of things she said and things she didn’t say. And she also mentions the death of her mother. A woman who could be vicious, a woman who could be snarky.
“It’s hard not to wonder how much might have been prevented if only I had loved him more, or, perhaps, loved her a little less. But that is useless thinking, and perilous. Better to let things stand as they were: she, my incandescent mother, and I, her little beast.”
Shalini travels to Kashmir in search of a man who was once a big part of their lives – her and her mother’s. She doesn’t know anyone else there but somehow these complete strangers help her, let them stay with her. She becomes a part of their lives. Yet her being there threatens their safety.
I loved reading about the mountain villages in Kashmir. I have never been to Kashmir or India but when I was in university, I traveled to Nepal to do a trek to Annapurna base camp. And while it was years ago, I can still picture all those little mountain villages we walked through and stayed at. I always remember marveling at these two young kids in school uniform – an older girl and a younger boy – skipping and hopping down the path ahead of us, out of their village and off far away to wherever their school was, something they did every day, twice a day, probably passing many other foreigners like us who were slowly clomping and stomping their way through the mountains.
It also brought to my awareness the conflict in Kashmir, something I know little about, but wanted to know more of after reading this.
The author writes beautifully but her main character Shalini was not easy to connect with. She sometimes seems a bit naive for her age and that proves disastrous for the people around her. But I loved reading about Shalini’s foray into village life in Kashmir, so far and different from bustling Bangalore where she’s from. And it’s these little moments that make this book a beautiful and moving one.
I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC
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