Author: Devi S. Laskar
Page Count: 253
Genre: Adult Diverse Literary Fiction, Own Voices
Blurb as on Goodreads:
An arresting debut novel which bears witness to American racism and abuse of power, tracing one woman’s shift from acquiescence to resistance.
When an unnamed narrator moves her family from the city of Atlanta to its wealthy suburbs, she discovers that neither the times nor the people have changed since her childhood in a small southern town. Despite the intervening decades, the woman, known only as The Mother, is met with the same questions: Where are you from? No, where are you really from? The American-born daughter of Bengali immigrant parents, her truthful answer, here, is never enough. She finds herself navigating a climate of lingering racism with three daughters in tow and a husband who spends more time in business class than at home.
The Mother’s simmering anger breaks through one morning, when, during a baseless and prejudice-driven police raid on her house, she finally refuses to be calm, complacent, polite—and is ultimately shot. As she lies bleeding on her driveway, The Mother struggles to make sense of her past and decipher her present—how did she end up here?
Devi S. Laskar has written a brilliant debut novel that grapples with the complexities of the second-generation American experience, what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace, a sister, a wife, a mother to daughters in today’s America. Drawing inspiration from the author’s own terrifying experience of a raid on her home, The Atlas of Reds and Blues explores, in exquisite, lyrical prose, an alternate reality that might have been.
This is a very difficult review for me to write, but it was even harder to read the book. And yet, it was compelling and unputdownable despite the topic and themes dealt with in the book being so heavy, intense and not very familiar to me. It took a toll. I was in parts sad, angry, frustrated, disgusted, enraged and scared while reading this book.
When you put American clothes on a brown-skinned doll, what do people see? The clothes? Or the whole doll? Or only the skin?
We’re told the story in short snippets from a brown woman’s perspective in the third person, most of the main characters are referred to by nicknames, even the narrator herself is Real Thing when she was a kid and now, Mother. Her daughters are called by nicknames and so is her husband. This was annoying at times while I was reading but I think I now understand why it was code names/titles instead of the actual names and why the detached observer kind of storytelling.
No one says anything, no one answers her question, asked in a myriad of ways: What happened here? All avert their eyes as she turns her head from one side of the crowd to the other, to gaze upon them, to see them, to be seen. Yet no one sees, no one chooses to see.
The story begins as the narrator, Mother, is lying on her driveway as a result of being shot by a cop and as she’s bleeding out, she’s reliving her life in bits and pieces, trying to figure out what choice led her on the path to this moment in her life. So we see her as a child, as an adult, a wife, a mother, a journalist and most specifically, as a brown woman growing up and living in the US – constantly being misunderstood, misidentified as black, mistaken for someone else or ignored altogether.
Apparently she cannot send even one of them to school. It is not safe. She is their only line of defense. She is the wall, the river, the buffer. She is the only thing that stands between them and the crazy world and the crazy people and the crazy thoughts outside.
After everything she’s been through and has to go through on almost a daily basis, I deeply admire her strength. I liked how strong she is, always ready to fight for her children – it reminded me of one of my aunts. It’s not easy to confront injustice or discrimination when you’re in the minority and no one seems to have your back but she does whatever she can for her children.
She offers herself a reward if she can just get through the next ten minutes without talking back, a trip to the bookstore, a hardback of her choice.
This was a harrowing collection of every such incident of racism, discrimination, prejudiced behavior, bullying, insults and unfairness she has experienced and put up with all her life and is now seeing her daughter be targeted. It made me so mad to see how cruel people can be, I was aware before but not to this extent.
Another thing that upset me was seeing how she kept it all inside, taking on more and more stress, grief, injustice and then fighting – whatever battles she chose to fight – alone.
“That’s not the point. Other people shouldn’t tell us what to do with our own toys. Other people shouldn’t make the toys without making all of the stuff that is supposed to go with it.”
“That’s part of the game. Other people make the rules and you have to figure out how to break the rules without hurting anyone.”
I generally don’t read heavy books – but every once in a while, certain books come along that just demand to be read, certain voices that need to be heard.
This book, like A Very Large Expanse of Sea and The Hate U Give that I read a few months ago, is such an important read in so many regards, primarily to bring to light how even the smallest acts of cruelty, insensitivity and ignorance can hurt others deeply. Also, to start conversations about the same and implore people to introspect and reevaluate their thinking and beliefs and maybe, just maybe do better and be better the next day.
Maybe she changes when she spends too much energy thinking about things she cannot change. Perhaps she spends entirely too much time replaying that one-sided conversation.
The ending left me a bit frustrated because it didn’t really answer why this happened and what happened next – and I get it, the narrator could only tell us what she already knew as she lay there dying and replaying all of the critical moments in her life. I just felt like something was missing.
It was a really good read – we need more such eye-openers – and I’m glad I read it, huge thanks to Hachette India!
Everybody needs to read this book at least once, maybe twice.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Have you read this book yet? Do you like to read hard-hitting novels that make you think and feel a lot? What book would you say everyone must read in this day and age? Talk to me in the comments below!