Comfortably Numb

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Published on: 03/26/19 7:08 AM

Book review: The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S Laskar

R is for racism

`Where are you really from?` That question, with its inherent prejudice and bias, lies at the heart of Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel, The Atlas Of Blues And Reds. It is not the American Dream but the American nightmare of racism that is centrestage here.

At the start of the story, the unnamed narrator, simply referred to as  the `Mother,` lies dying in the driveway of her house. There are policeman surrounding her, traipsing through her house, all of them supremely indifferent to her grievous injury. As she lies there, the Mother’s past life flashes before her eyes in a series of inciting incidents.

How much humiliation can a person take before they crack up? Is it judicious to look away from racism in both its overt and covert forms?  Does fitting in mean suppressing one’s anger and pain, till one day, everything  comes to a head? The story grapples with all these questions and the answers are not pretty.

The Mother is born in America to Bengali immigrants. She marries a white man,  has three children and lives in a predominantly white Georgia suburb.

The Mother and her daughters encounter racism in so many ways; the casual variety experienced at the dry cleaner’s or on the road; the insulting type practiced by the neighbours; the scary form when it comes from a white cop. As the incidents pile up, they inexorably come to a head post 9/11, and reach a crescendo when Trump gets elected.

Looking away, putting their head down and keeping a stiff upper lip seems to be their coping mechanism.

The husband remains conveniently insulated from what his family is facing, not only because he is white but also because the Mother and her children choose not to tell him any of it, a decision partly driven by the fact that the husband is perennially travelling.  

The Atlas Of Blues  And Reds may not be an easy read but it makes an impact with its searing and unflinching look at the underbelly of the American Dream. It also has a timely resonance in every country where minorities are made to feel they don`t belong in a place they sadly and ironically consider home.

The Atlas of Reds and Blues/ Devi S. Laskar/ Hachette India/ ₹550

This ran in THE HINDU of 26 Mar 2019.

Devi S LaskarIndians in AmericaracismThe Atlas of Blues and Reds

Sheila Kumar • March 26, 2019

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