The past is beautiful and also has the power to be vicious. For it to rear its ugly head and not let go, till the demons have been put to rest. As a reader, I see this theme occurring again and again in books. I think that one cannot ignore it in any art form. The past is a strong element of nature that will not be ignored at all and it will be repeated again and again, just as it plays a central and vociferous role in Mira Jacob’s book, “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing”.
“The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing” is a story of a dysfunctional family, of old ties, of relationships that cannot be forgotten and which honestly, is nothing new in the world of literature. What is new though is the way it is said. The narration is so strong that it made me feel that I was reading a book of a different nature and plot. As it happens in all family stories – this one also has a lot of grandeur, a lot of mess, a lot of fleeting and unsaid emotions, and a lot of past, present and future that tangles itself and slowly unravels the plot.
At the heart of this book is the Eapen family. The novel opens in Seattle where Amina Eapen gets a call from her mother, Kamala in Albuquerque, saying that something is wrong with her surgeon father, Thomas, who is now talking to family members who are no longer alive. This is where Amina flies down to check on her father and the story begins – back and forth between India and America and New Mexico and the Eapen family’s secrets and despair and love and longing are unravelled, chapter by chapter. There is a lot happening in the book and maybe that is what makes it so special, also not to forget that it keeps coming back to the core of the plot.
The family is just like any other family and yet it is not what it seems. As you turn the pages, you are stunned by the language, the tenderness and harshness of prose at the same time, the starkness and as a reader; I was only happy that it was a big read and not cut down. Every character has his or her part etched beautifully. No one is out of place. From Amina dealing with her issues and identity looming large to her brother Akhil who is struggling with his own demons. There is also a lot of humour infused in the book – dry as it may be but it definitely helps the reader get through the complex parts.
Jacob in a very tragic-comic manner talks of an Indian family in America and their past linked to their future. The journey from India to America in search of a better life and the consequences of it, are described in great detailed and told with great empathy. The book is honest and that is most needed out of any book. There are no frills or pretensions around it. There is a lot of food in it as well. There is a lot of drama. There is a lot of love and there are sentences and dialogues which are stunning and will leave you begging for more.