Shubhangi Swarup’s “Latitudes of Longing” touted as “The Literary Debut of the Year” holds true to its felicitous appreciation that makes us asservate that a new star is on the horizon. The labyrinthine monochromatic cover design by Rashmi Gupta mesmerizes and grabs eyeballs with the intricate illustrations which tend to ostend the entire plot within its borders. Rashmi Gupta encompasses the faultlines and the landscapes featured in the book through her illustrations. She also doesn’t forget to incorporate creatures such as gecko trapped in the amber, the turtles, beetles with bright coloured wings, the glowing eyes in the dark, crocodile, ibex, the fish and the boat with much care which gives us with some indelible moments in the book. The designer deserves much appreciation for giving the book a succinct cover.
Swarup begins the book with the line “Silence on a tropical island is the relentless sound of water” giving us a glimpse into the realms of her fictional world setting us up for the upcoming melange of emotions. Her landscapes begins in the tropical island of Andamans sandwiched between the Tropic of cancer and the Equator where the salt waters of the mighty Indian Ocean caress its lonely shores following geographical faultlines through the Junta ruled Irrawaddy delta of Myanmar, to the tourist trapped Thamel in Nepal, ending amidst the highest glaciers of the snow-clad passes of Karakorams and the Siachen Glacier.
The book is made up of four chapters titled: “Islands”, “Faultline”, Valley” and “Snow Desert” which also informs us of the setting we are about to encounter and revel. Swarup’s enchanting novel begins in the post-independent India where Girija Prasad Varma, an Oxford-educated civil servant ends up in the island of Andamans to set up the Indian Forest Service with his newly married bride Chanda Devi. While he drudges in work, his wife revel in talking to trees and watching the actions of ghosts as they both try to build a love and a life. Chanda Devi, the clairvoyant wife leaves the world giving life to their daughter who grows up to be like female Mowgli and sent to boarding school when the time comes.
Rose Mary, an ethnic Karen girl accommodated into the Girija Prasad household as a maidservant is accompanied to junta-ruled Myanmar by Thapa where her son Plato (abandoned by her as an infant), a student revolutionary has been imprisoned for treason. Thapa, a Nepali who deals with smuggling drugs across borders travels to Kathmandu where he finds friendship with Bagamati, a bar dancer. The story moves to the no man’s land where senile village elder Apo falls in love with Ghazala, a Kashmiri octogenarian woman. Rana, Girija Prasad’s grandson finds himself in Siachen Glacier along with Indian soldiers trying to understand the glacial terrain contemplating about ending futile wars over a glacier.
Swarup’s novel which works its own magic on us is irresistible with richly imagined characters for us to ponder upon. She also regales us with tales of a turtle morphing into a boat to save its child and about the love between the sun and the moon which are interspersed between the chapters without impeding the flow of the tale along the faultlines. The book will make sure it changes the way we see the world, its people and nature. The words, both intense and lyrical fetters us to the vast expanse of a magical world filled with engaging characters within its 300 plus odd pages. Swarup’s words cast an unlikely spell on us making us plunge deep in her four chapter marvel following the faultlines over myriad landscapes, exploring intense longings. The amount of research that the author must have endured to give us such a staggering and meaningful tale astonishes us beyond description.
The characters waft in and out of each disparate chapters mostly held all together by sometimes only by the single thread of a line which deceives the readers into thinking if this is a collection of short stories but Swarup makes sure to trounce the deception through her engrossing and whimsical words. “You cannot put yourself in someone else’s shoes until you remove your own” quotes a character in the novel which holds true even for us to understand the longing of each character.
Latitudes of Longing will appeal with its emotional resonance, vibrant characters with multifarious emotions following their longings making the readers vulnerable to be engrossed with the book forgetting our surroundings stirring our inquisitiveness and filling us with surprises taking the sadness away. As one of her characters says “Anything is possible, because Everything Is” gives much-needed strength to find hope in the cracks and fissures of our own faultlines in our lives. Latitudes of Longing will sure make resonance with its words and it definitely deserves a re-read, again and again, to revel in the words of Shubhangi Swarup, which marks the arrival of an incredible literary talent with a befitting laudable debut which every fledgeling author would dream of.
P.S: The book finds its place among the longlist of 10 books for The JCB Prize for Literature. I would be over the moon if Latitudes of Longing finds its name as the winner. I think Shubhangi Swarup deserves it for this magical novel which would inspire other writers young and alike and readers to sought for Indian Contemporary writing. Fingers crossed.
Find the Longlist of The JCB Price for Literature 2018 here.
“Visions only appear to the ones they are meant for”
“Life is more than the sum of its breaths and tremors.”
“For the best way to ignore the moment of separation is to deny the silence that precedes it.”
“Memory was life reflected in a shattered mirror.”
“Everything in life came at a price. The challenge lay in being able to afford it all.”
“For even death forsakes those who live in despair.”
“Perhaps, that’s how time is for some of us. It doesn’t fly. It sits still.”
Book Details :
Author: Shubhangi Swarup
Paperback: 344 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Copy: HarperCollins India and The Curious Reader
** I was gifted this book by Harpercollins India and The Curious Reader (http://www.thecuriousreader.in/) for review.**