3 stars, Book reviews

If I Had to Tell It Again by Gayathri Prabhu

36528197.jpgGenre: Memoir

Date Published: November 2017

Pages: 192

Source: Harper Collins Review Copy

Goodreads Synopsis: Sixty-six years of a lifetime gone.

There would be no funeral. He had donated his body to the local medical college. It was part of his script, his fantasy about death. He would show his hospital donation certificate to anyone who came to our house. No rituals for me, he would announce. To his mind there was some justice in being cut up by medical students. He had wanted to be a doctor.
There is his corpse, lying on the floor, people constantly milling around, talking about his untimely, unfortunate death, while I stare at everyone in dry-eyed annoyance. He had always been a popular man, much loved, generous to a fault to his neighbours, even if angry towards his own family. I just want him gone from the house. When the van from the morgue comes to pick him up, everyone urges us to touch his feet, to ask for his blessings. It is expected from children of dead parents. Everyone watches us.

You first, an old man points to me, my father s first-born.

I bend down, my fingers touch his feet.

In my mind the words form, loud and distinct I forgive you.

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My View: That bare, sparse cover is a true fit for this book. It radiates what is within. The hazy memories of a lifetime gone by, the words disappearing before they are written. Written hurriedly without a thought given to the capitals. Flowing over the page, unbidden, unstoppable, like a river in motion.

This book is not an easy read. I cannot even fathom how difficult it would have been to write. At one point, the author explains why memoirs are less frequently written in our country. Because they will be read by relatives, neighbors, and friends. We belong to a  country in which people hide their shame and do not air their dirty laundries in public. But whose shame is it anyway?

The book transcends various forms of narratives and undergoes time lapses. The reality is seen via a play, heard by the author herself or told in the third narrative as if the author wants to distance herself from what is being said. As if it’s not her past. As if she wants to disown what has gone by. And who wouldn’t? With a life like that, anyone would want to hide the past under covers and never look at it again. But herein, the author stays true to what her father wanted her to be. Brave, unafraid, facing her demons, standing upto family, relatives and friends in baring the reality and brushing nothing under the carpet.

There it is, the stark, naked truth for you to see, feel and abhor. Everything that we hide, turn away from, refuse to believe, deny. The workings of our families, our societies, the bleak knowledge of mental illness and our ignorance.

When it began, it felt more like a book about the author’s journey with her father. It was only past page 80 when we began to get more than just a glimpse of her which is when the book took on a completely different turn. And I found myself falling into the vortex of her mind, feeling, experiencing, detesting.

The to and fro narratives, free of progressive timelines gave a disconnected, jarring feel to the narrative. But I believe that reflects the life of the narrator as it really was. It hasn’t been an easy one. So when a friend of the author tells her she is strong, I concur. It takes someone with an immense strength to undergo all that she has. No one can come unscathed from these experiences and neither did she. But to have come a long way and making the most of her life is what she has excelled at.

The lack of names in the memoir, identified usually by a single alphabet, a G, a N. It felt disconcerting. Not to know the names, not to know the characters well. Not to know about the author’s mother, her name, more about her. But I think this memoir is more a father-daughter’s story than anything else and the author wanted to stay true to it. Others are just passing characters in this real-life story and have been kept nameless so that we can bypass them quickly without sparing them a thought. They aren’t as important to the narrative, to the journey the author wants to take us on.

The writing is easy to read, flows well and helps the reader understand the dilemma, the uncertainty and the storm occurring within the author. This memoir is a testament to life’s difficulties and the odds against which a person rises despite being pulled down, over and over again. It’s a narrative of a difficult childhood, multiple instances of physical and sexual abuse, resulting depression, and a fight against all of it. It is undoubtedly a memoir worth reading.

3/5 stars – I liked it
3 stars

Author Bio:

Gayathri Prabhu is the author of the memoir ‘If I Had to Tell It Again’ (HarperCollins, 2017) and the novels ‘The Untitled’ (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, 2016), ‘Birdswim Fishfly’ (Rupa, 2006) and Maya (Indialog, 2003). She presently teaches literary studies at the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities.

(Thank you Harper Collins for providing me a review copy. All opinions are my own and unbiased.)

3 thoughts on “If I Had to Tell It Again by Gayathri Prabhu”

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