First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.

Synopsis:

In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a hijra person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shtree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that i engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.


Happy Friday everyone! While Monday is the least favorite day of the week, Friday is its antithesis. Friday, after all, is the gateway to the weekend. It is the day everyone, if not most of us is all looking forward to it. Anyway, I hope you ended your work week on a high note. Such is the life of an adult. Since it is the weekend, it’s time to ditch those work clothes and don more comfortable clothes. Wherever you are, I hope you are doing well. The threat of the pandemic remains pregnant in the air, coupled with the looming presence of monkeypox. I hope that you are all observing the minimum health standards to prevent the further spread of both diseases. I do hope that you are doing fine and that you are healthy, in mind, body, and spirit. Do rest well during the weekend.

Before I can dive into the weekends, let me close this week with a fresh First Impression Friday update. My friend and I just spent nearly two hours in the cafe. One of the things we discussed was how 2022 is nearly coming to a close. We’re also nearly midway through August! In a couple more days, Jose Mari Chan will be serenading Filipinos with timeless Christmas songs. Radio stations and malls will start playing Christmas songs. The Filipinos do have a long Christmas tradition which lasts the entire span of the -ber months. Anyway, I have dedicated August to reading works of Asian literature. I have recently realized how lacking my venture into the other parts of Asia is, contrary to what I initially thought. I know that Asian literature is a vast sphere and I am hoping that in exploring other parts of the continent, I will get to learn more about its colorful cultures, diverse people, and history. My current read, Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand transported me to the Indian subcontinent.

Indian literature is a part of the literary world that I barely ventured to. Sure, I have read the works of Salman Rushdie and other Booker Prize-winning works written by Indian writers. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg, as I soon realized. Speaking of the Booker Prize, Shree’s Tomb of Sand was recently awarded the 2022 International Booker Prize. It was up against Nobel Laureate in Literature Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, the novel the Swedish Committee adjudged as the Polish writer’s magnum opus. I loved The Books of Jacob, thus, the Indian novel winning the prize intrigued me although it immediately grabbed my attention when it was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Back then, I somehow kind of had an inkling that the award will be a toss between these two labyrinthine works for both books are lengthy.

Originally published in 2018 with the Hindi title रेत समाधि  (Ret Samadhi), the novel’s main protagonist was an eighty-year-old woman. Simply referred to as “Ma”, she suffered depression following the demise of her husband. We first meet her lying on what can only be seen as her deathbed. She has also turned her back on the rest of the world, including her family which was comprised of two children, Bade and Beti. Bade, by default, became the “man of the house” following the demise of his father. When abbreviated, Man of the House is MOTH; I just learned that MOTH means death in Hindi. Bade was married to Bahu and the couple had two children, one of which moved to Australia. However, it was Beti who played a more seminal role in their mother’s life. Independent and unmarried, Beti was living a decadent lifestyle. She was only the second woman at the heart of the story.

The story did take time to develop. For nearly 200-pages, Ma, also referred to as  Amma, Mata-ji and Baji, was spending her days grieving. However, this did not stop other people from visiting her. They believed that Ma’s cane was magical; the cane had a recurring presence in the story. The action started picking up when Ma was reenergized and escaped from her elder son’s house, along with an old statue of Buddha. When she reappeared, she opted to stay with her daughter. This was a second lease at life, it seems. It was in Beti’s care that Ma’s friendship with Rosie Bua flourished. Rosie was a hijra; to the uninitiated, a hijra is an individual born as a male but identifies as female. I first came across the term in Megha Majumdar’s A Burning and it intrigued me. It was the hijra’s presence that also riveted me into Tomb of Sand.

I am nearly done with the novel; I am just a hundred pages short of completing the 700-plus page book. I admit I struggled a bit with the story. Apart from the slow start, I had to slow down my reading pace because of the novel’s polyphonic perspective. The voices kept on shifting, thus, the different names used to refer to Ma. It was towards the end that her real name was finally unveiled. The lack of quotation marks made it doubly challenging to identify the dialogues. One thing that was clearly missing was boundaries. Synonyms appear consecutively. The partition between Pakistan and India was also underlined. Rosie, on the other hand, was a subtle representation of the boundaries of gender. Despite these challenges I encountered, one thing was for sure, Shree had a knack for words. There was a certain level of playfulness to how she strung the words together to come up with an absorbing tale.

I can’t wait to see how the novel’s strands are tied up. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!