52 Good Books

Book Review 39 – As Fathers Go by Anand Nair

If I were to tell you that you should absolutely read this book if it’s the last thing you do then you might think that I’m saying it because the author is a friend of mine, or because I like to promote self published writers or because I’m just nice like that. All of these things are true of course (especially the last one 😉) but none of them are the reason that you should read As Fathers Go.

Let me demonstrate why you should read this book. Here is Anand’s description of the Muslim call to prayer:

That call was a stirring invocation; at that time, I did not understand why. Today, I know that it distils all the sorrows of the world and I find it unbearable sometimes.

Anand floors me with her prose. So astoundingly beautiful. Haunting at times but also filled with the wry wit that embodies her.

As Fathers Go is an all-senses dive into life in a small south Indian town in the 1940’s. Brimming with the sights the smells, the textures and colours of the life that was lived by Anand and her family. I love stories about India, perhaps it is the sense of familiarity that speaks to me, being of Indian origin myself. I love hearing someone else’s interpretation of the culture that has been my upbringing.

Anand tells the tale of growing up in the 1940’s in a home without electricity and with relatively few comforts. She had a large extended family and a father who was ahead of his times with his ideas about educating girls and letting them marry later in life. The story moves largely in a linear fashion, but Anand is fond of talking in themes. She might mention how they got drinking water when she was a young girl and then flit to a scene about being told to boil water when she worked in Africa, then contrast this with the tap water in her home town of Purley today. It’s fun and it keeps you on the ball.

As with any book based in India there are the inevitable Indian words that sneak into the story. Some of the Malayalam words Anand used in the book she did explain, but others, I had to guess at. ‘Pottu’ for example. A quick Google told me that this is what I would call a ‘bindi’. So come prepared for a little googling on the side if you want to keep up with all her references.

There were also some spelling and layout errors which I think Anand will be fixing following a re-edit, but my only real gripe was with the ending which I felt was arrived at a little unceremoniously, perhaps in a bit of a rush. I am of course holding Anand up to her own exquisitely high standards here. If she were to edit this again I would recommend concentrating on the last few lines to breathe some of the magic that she has so liberally sprinkled the rest of this book with.

Overall As Fathers Go felt like unearthing a treasure. Here laid out before me was the life story of this phenomenal woman and her progressive father. I feel like I’ve walked alongside Anand for a brief time. I’ve met her determined dad, her traditional aunt, her doting cousins, her nutty grandmother and her unobservant ex-husband. It was like being invited to a family gathering. If you enjoy domestic stories and the chance to delve into the mysteries of India then do not miss this book. I’m very glad I didn’t.

Next week I’ll be reading a book by everyone’s favourite historian. Women & Power by Mary Beard. Don’t miss my review next Monday.

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