Saturday , June 15 2024
The Book of Everlasting Things by Aanchal Malhotra

Book Review: ‘The Book of Everlasting Things’ by Aanchal Malhotra

India & Pakistan

In The Book of Everlasting Things Aanchal Malhotra takes readers on a journey into the well of sadness that was created by the partition of the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India. It’s a tale of two families, (one Muslim and one Hindu) a city (Lahore), and the amazing world of perfumes and scent.

You might ask how the three tie together. But what Malhotra has done is create a world focused on how scent can evoke memories. The smell of a rose will bring back the feelings of happiness, or sadness, one might associate with that plant. Here, scents and perfumes don’t just recreate moments for individuals but whole eras as well. 

At the heart of her book Malhotra has placed the story of Samir and Firdaus: two lovers more star-crossed than anyone should have to deal with. He is Hindu and she is Muslim and they both live in pre partition Lahore. They meet when they’re nine. His family runs a perfume making shop and her father is a calligrapher.

It so happens the calligrapher needs someone to infuse his paper with the scent of roses. So not only does this precipitate a business arrangement that will last for years, it also brings the two young people together.

While their friendship is initially harmless, it soon blossoms into a romance, and by the time they are teenagers they are besotted with each other. Unfortunately that also manages to coincide with what will eventually result in Partition, which turned neighbours into enemies, if not overnight, then in a matter of weeks.

Samir’s family and home are destroyed in a fire set by fanatics. Cut off from Firdaus, and all the people he’s known and loved destroyed, he decides to go to Europe. His uncle, who had cofounded the perfume business, had served in the British army in France in WWl,.Based on that tenuous connection, he heads across the oceans.

Here he attempts to start a new life, with a new family. However he is haunted by his past, both his uncle’s and his own. He discovers how his uncle had become enamoured of perfumes and scents while in France and that he too had attempted to recreate a life away from the past and India for himself – one that ended when his wife and child died in childbirth.

While Malhotra has focused much of her story on Samir’s fate, we also never loose track of Firdaus. While she eventually marries the man her mother chooses for her, she too forgets her first love. Stored under her bed is a box filled with every letter Samir ever sent her before their forced separation – sorted in chronological order so she can retrace the history of their love whenever the desire strikes her. 

Drawing upon her background as an oral historian who has studied the effect Partition had on people and families, Malhotra has created a beautiful and heart breaking story. Not just because of the thwarted love at its centre, but also because of the way she depicts how the effects of historical events – Partition and WWl  – travel on down through time to impact on a present day generation.

The Book of Everlasting Things is a wonderful book that will allow readers to experience history in a unique and poignant way. Read it and truly understand how nothing is black and white and there are no simple answers as to why somebody is the way they are. 

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to Qantara.de and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

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