Book review | In the Land of the Lovers by Sakoon Singh
Author: Sakoon Singh
Genre: literary fiction
No. of pages: 222
Published by: Rupa Publications
Published on: 10th April 2020
My rating: ★★★★☆
in the absence of her parents, Nanaki, a fiercely sensitive young woman, is brought up by her grandparents in a quaint Chandigarh neighbourhood. She grows up to be an artist and a Professor in an art college. As Nanaki goes through the motions of an idyllic childhood and a difficult teenage love, her experiences play out against a haunting backdrop of Partition and her beeji’s turbulent personal history. Nanaki is brought face to face with the dark underbelly of contemporary Punjab when she takes up the cause of a consummate embroidery artist against a corrupt system while also being privy to the heart-breaking stories of two women in her immediate vicinity. Through it all, it is her Sufi bearings that sustain her. Meanwhile, over many motorcycle jaunts to the tiny hill-town of Kasauli, Nanaki finds love in Himmat, an architect with his own share of personal tragedy and a scarred childhood. Meditative, rooted in location yet filtered through nostalgia, in the land of the lovers is a masterfully woven fable with interlocking tales that explore struggle, loss, longing and love with brilliant insight and luminous prose.
Judging by the book title, I had assumed that In the Land of the Lovers would be a love story based in Punjab. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this book is so much more than a romance novel. You will find romance in it, but not between the characters. You'll find the romance in the land of Punjab itself.
This book is about Nanaki - A fiercely independent, yet a sensible young woman, who grew up without her parents. Raised by equally fierce grandparents, Nanaki has grown up to become an artist who stands up for the right cause. Nanaki is especially close with her grandmother - who is lovingly referred to as Beeji throughout the whole book. As the author lays out Nanaki's story of growing up in a quintessential Punjabi household, we get to see Beeji's haunting past as well. In the tumultuous days of Partition, a very pregnant Beeji had to go through a lot, as she and her mother fled to Amritsar from Okara (in Pakistan). In a way, we get to see a reflection of Beeji's relentless personality in Nanaki.
Sakoon Singh explores both contemporary and urban Punjab through her book. In the Land of the Lovers is not just about a girl's growth or the partition, but it also gives you a glimpse of patriarchy, corruption, drug addiction and nepotism. I love how the author uses Nanaki's work life to showcase unfair corruption and nepotism, and uses this to show Nanaki's resolve as well.
The author beautifully executes the story of Nanaki and her simple and humble story of growing up, teenage rejection at love, work, and finally falling in love.
I loved how the author incorporated a storytelling style where she makes her characters go down the memory lane in order to relive their tragic pasts. It's almost like a movie, when these past events are shown in black and white. And somehow I found this book a bit melancholic, because of the writing style. The author also includes the conversation of two puppets in between parts of the book, and these puppets converse between them in a sarcastic way, about the ugly side of Punjab.
SAKOON SINGH read English Literature at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Panjab University. A recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, she currently teaches Literature and Cultural Studies in Chandigarh. She has published her academic writings extensively, including contribution to Cultural Studies in India by Routledge. She has served on the editorial team of prestigious journals, Dialog and E3W Review of Books. She has written pieces, articles and op-eds on literature, art, culture and aesthetics for The Tribune, Hindustan Times, DNA and The Quint. She has recently been selected as Associate Fellow at IIAS, Shimla. When she is not indulging the written word, she is walking the wilds or listening to Jazz. She lives in Chandigarh with her husband and son.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.