SAFFIYAH EDOO

This is it. I had reached the last page of the novel I had currently been reading, and I already felt at a loss. I needed to get my next fix ready. With so vast the selection, the choice cycle began again.  I browsed online, read some twenty reviews, and in the end, remained unsure about what to get. So, I made my way to the bookshop, browsed some more, this time through the shelves, trying to decide about that one universe that will insulate me for the coming days. Tough call! I picked a first book, read the synopsis, and a look at the price tag made me put it back. For let’s face it, booklovers literally pay the price of their passion dearly in Mauritius.

I spotted one, felt attracted to it, but as is my usual process, I made it my fallback in case I found nothing that appealed to me. So, I repeated that scenario for a good half hour, undecisive that I am, unsure about where to invest my money to make sure that the much-needed aforementioned fix is obtained. I decided to be bold and took the spotted book, without quickly checking the reviews on my phone. As I handed over my card to the saleswoman, I got the familiar “what if this turns out to be crap?” feeling but I shut it down and made my way out.

For the following weeks, I got sucked into the rabbit hole, though without confusion, that is The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam. The first pages were enough to squash my earlier doubts, for what I had begun to read was on the far end of the other side of the spectrum of crap. I was generously served with the much-needed insulation that I was craving for, with the craft of Aslam, who passionately weaves the stories of the people of Zamana, a fictitious Pakistani town, with equally strong threads of the love of a book, discrimination, oppression, fanaticism, liberation, arts, socially shackled women with totally unchained minds, into a heartbreakingly beautiful tapestry of love, loss and acceptance.

The latent sub plot of the story, which is the painstaking undertaking of sewing a destroyed book back, which represents a family legacy, with golden thread, is representative of the main plot itself. Nargis, who lives with a heavy secret, sees her life turn upside down with the loss of her husband, Massud, who dies in a bombing. In the aftermath of Massud’s death, Nargis is caught in a diplomatic web, of which she was just a mere commentator as a layperson, before. With Massud’s death comes the loss of protection of Helen and her father Lily, Pakistani Christians, who have been part of Nargis and Massud’s life for aeons. In their world, there is none of the discrimination that Helen and Lily face daily in the outside world. For theirs is a world of openness, sharing and full of love. Nargis undertakes the sewing back of a book written by her father in law, representative of how the lives that have been irrevocably changed by Massud’s death, are sewn back, but not without leaving traces of the experiences that they have lived. Their secluded world becomes polluted with what they had only been observing from the periphery.

And when things get out of hand, Nargis, Helen, Lily and the mysterious Imran, are forced to flee. The Golden Legend is also a glimpse into an attempt to find beauty and love in an ongoing cruel world, hell bent on man trying to impose his wills on others. As any good book, when the last word is read, there is a sense of loss and mourning for the characters. There is also a feeling of wanting to know more of what happened to them. For novels of this kind rarely have a neat end stitch.

Books are enlightening rabbit holes. As we make our way down, the characters we meet come to life, the segment of their lives that we are privileged to share tell us more about ourselves than about them, for our reading of their circumstances and situations shape our view of things, depending on who we are and the current place we are in our lives in that particular moment of making that reading journey. The stories that we read offer a glimpse of lives as we do not know it, or as we might never would have imagined it. I remain a willing Alice, as long as there will be stories to be told.