Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/12/19 2:59 PM


Book review: A Bend in the River of Life by Marianne de Nazareth

A Bend in the River of Life by Marianne de Nazareth. Leadstart Books.

Now here`s a dilemma. Can one label a book that deals with the onset and relentless progress of Parkinsonism in a set of parents, a happy read? Impactful, yes. Informative, very much so. Disturbing, well, that`s a given, dealing as it does with this debilitating disease.

However, A Bend… blends in some moments of sheer delight too, moments  which fall over the story rather like dappled sunlight and lights up the spots it touches. The narrative, though serious, is not a dark one.

The protagonist siblings, Sabrina and Samara, have chosen to view this dreadful, gradual devastation wrought on their beloved parents with undisguised sadness intertwined with affectionate nostalgia. As a device this works very well, rendering the book an entertaining as well as informative read.

The two women start to lose their IAF officer father to Parkinson`s even while he is alive and then to diabetes in the end. But the reader is left with a lovely picture of the man, his good cheer, his positive outlook on life, his devotion to the women in his life, that is his wife and daughters, his sense of humour, and ironically, his courage in the face of most calamities.

Sabrina who tells the story here,  wistfully recalls her father`s hands, their shape, the strength inherent in them whether it was to hold them protectively when they were little girls, to pick up a shovel and go to work in the garden, or put up shelves around the house; she then tells us how hard it was to reconcile to tremors  in those very hands.  There is a lovely passage where we read that he went to Chennai to look after his infant grandson while his daughter went back to work. This was a man with a heart.

The mother is still alive and we are told that this elegant Air Force wife with formidable culinary skills, an abiding love for books, a woman who went in for her Masters in her 50s, set up a pre-school at the back of her house, a woman of both substance and determination, is now wheelchair- bound, unable to swallow   and fed through a tube attached to her stomach. Truly a lump in the  throat moment for the reader.

There are warm glimpses into the parents` marriage. Windows open into another world which comes alive with delightful details. We are taken to Baroda, to Shillong, to Darjeeling, to Pilerne village in Goa, we go all over Bangalore of another time. Descriptions of  heavily fruiting neem trees, the Dak bungalows that used to dot small towns across India, tips on composting, bottling jams and preserves, as also humourous recounts of fun times in the family, are to be found through the book.

The reader is entranced by these details, then almost immediately brought back to the sad present with a jolt. Because, and there is no getting away from it, the real focus here is on Parkinsonism, its symptoms, the  ravages it inflicts  on the mind and the body.  

Giving the girls a headstart in life was the only focus of both father and mother, goes a line in the book. Indeed, a touching tribute, a loving acknowledgment to the precious place parents hold in a child`s life.   

The book is a calm cauldron of fragmented memories. It  deals with heartbreak and acceptance, but in the most gentle manner ever.

A Bend in the River of Lifebook reviewfamilyhealthMarianne de NazarethParkinsonism

Sheila Kumar • March 12, 2019

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  1. Marianne Nazareth March 13, 2019 - 7:55 am Reply

    Thank you Sheila!

    Your review touches the core of my book — the love of the parents for the girls and vice versa. How the disease unexpectedly hits both parents and finally destroys these strong individuals.

    It’s a mirror held up to our own lives where we rarely appreciate and thank our parents till it is too late and we cannot.

    I also wanted to show how debilitating Parkinsons is and how difficult it is for a caregiver as well.

    I could not have asked for a more fitting review to the book. Thank you!

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