Author: Tashan Mehta
Paperback Edition: 424 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins (September 29th 2023)
Buy it here.
About The Book:
Myung and Laleh are keepers of the whale of babel. They roam within its cosmic chambers, speak folktales of themselves, and pray to an enigmatic figure they know only as ‘Great Wisa’. To Laleh, this is everything. For Myung, it is not enough.
When Myung flees the whale, she stumbles into a new universe where shapeshifting islands and ancient maps hold sway. There, she sets off on an adventure that is both tragic and transformative, for her and Laleh. For at the heart of her quest lies a mystery that has confounded scholars for generations: the truth about the mad sisters of Esi.
Fables, dreams and myths come together in this masterful work of fantasy by acclaimed author Tashan Mehta, sweeping across three landscapes, and featuring a museum of collective memory and a festival of madness. At its core, it asks: In the devastating chaos of this world, where all is in flux and the truth ever-changing, what will you choose to hold on to?
About The Author:
Tashan Mehta is the author of The Liar’s Weave, which was shortlisted for the inaugural Prabha Khaitan Woman’s Voice Award. Her short stories have featured in Magical Women, the Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction Volume 2 and PodCastle. She was fellow at the 2015 and 2021 Sangam House International Writers’ Residency, India, and writer-in-residence at Anglia Ruskin University, UK. You can find her at tashanmehta.com
This fantasy fiction was a long read, which takes the reader on a journey that is both exciting and unfathomable.
Starting from the cover of the book, which the reader can find to be very intriguing in the start to very relatable in the end. As the excerpt suggests, this book is very much about the exploration of the world beyond the one we are introduced to in the first few pages. Being a fantasy fiction, the book takes some time to engage the reader. The attention to detail is par excellence when it comes to describing the worlds of Esi and Ojda. However, it does feel dragged at times, when the story doesn’t move forward.
One of the brilliant things about the book is how it is meticulously planned like a historic journal. It makes the reader believe that it is not merely a work of fiction but an actual relic of a parallel world we might not be aware of. The beautiful scenes make the reader want to jump into the book and experience those magical worlds.
In simple words, the story revolves around the sisterhood of two pairs of sisters. As the layers of the story are peeled off gradually, the reader understands the existence of the whale of Babel. With the explorations of Myung, the story makes the reader dive into the unknown world of the Black Sea. The creatures, the islands, the life, the exotic flora and fauna come alive in the mind of the reader through the intricately written words of the author.
The Festival of Madness being the core theme of the book, around which much of the story seemed to revolve, wasn’t given much detailed description when its time finally arrived. Even after it, the reader feels confused as the details of the festival are left repetitive yet vague.
The characters of Laleh and Myung, and those of the Mad Sisters, depict the sisterhood in an unhinged and purest form. The reader can feel the pain each character feels. Through the mere art of words, the author has depicted the many shades of sisterhood – love, banter, annoyance, pining for each other’s company, longing to hold each other, anger, helplessness, and above all understanding each other’s choices. What makes this bond so very relatable for every reader is the fact that these individuals, called sisters, aren’t related in blood but simply through the threads of the heart.
However, following the story of the mad sisters, it becomes very easy for the reader to lose track of the main characters, Laleh and Myung. More depth into these main characters seems to be missing once the reader dives into the life of Esi. The character of Jinn and his side of the story also lacks weight considering his character was equally crucial in the story.
What is fascinating to see is that being a long read, the author holds the emotions of the reader very carefully. The story though weaves through various stages of sisterhood, it also takes the reader on the emotional ride pertaining to other emotions like different modes of love : first love, parental love, love of a stranger, teenage love, old love… The author deftly showcases a range of emotions of both, loss and grief. In a nutshell, the author beautifully captures life as an emotion in this book.
Bottom line: An exceptional depiction of imagination and emotions, a perfect amalgamation.
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