Review: The Book of Everlasting Things
Aanchal Malhotra Weaves a Tale of Love, Memory, and Scent.
THE BOOK OF EVERLASTING THINGS
by Aanchal Malhotra
"All perfumes are in some way inspired by people. They become homages, dedications, tributes. In fact, a perfume without memory is a body without soul."
*** This is the most spoilery review I've written. While the review itself does not go into heavy detail about the events of the novel, there is more than enough information to get the gist of what happens.***
The Book of Everlasting Things by Aanchal Malhotra may be romantic, but it is far from a romance book. Instead, it is a novel that challenges the reader to witness the beauty of grief.
Apprenticing under his uncle as a perfumer, Samir falls instantly and wholeheartedly in love with Firdaus, who is studying to be a calligrapher under her father's tutelage. Broken into five parts, their stories span decades of their lives. When their story begins to unravel, we see the many threads of the past that brought them to this point.
Overall this was a beautiful and enjoyable read. However, there were a few items that made the experience tedious. I listen to the audiobook version courtesy of NetGalley. The narrator's voice was pleasant and evocative, but her French accent left much to be desired. The story gets a little lost in itself around the halfway point. And while overall, I enjoy the repetition as a literary device, the author's repeated use of "pistachio eyes" felt unimaginative and indolent, especially in such an otherwise lush story.
Samir and Firdaus are undoubtedly the novel's focus. However, the other characters allow us (the reader) differing perspectives and examine how history is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. But, more importantly, it reveals the power of love, time, and distance to heal. It is a story about love and loss but also about what it means to be human in times of war and political upheaval.
It was an interesting decision by the author to devote such a short amount of time to the actual Partition. It felt like an eye blink in the narrative; then I realized it was because it would have been in Firdaus and Samir's life span. The cascade of the effects of one act changed their lives irrevocably.
The historical moments of this book are used to fuel the human elements. It delivers to the reader the interwoven threads of generational trauma and generational memory. We have a front-row seat in attempting to balance individual identity with cultural identity. Firdaus fell forward into her grief, persistently ignoring her trauma but carrying the burden of shame. Samir finds himself stuck in the past, often losing sight of the present.
After their paths diverge, the theme that both stories share is the ebb and flow of sorrow. We see that Firdous and Samir's entire existence is not mired in loss; there are moments of great joy, but they never lose the profound longing for a life stolen from them. While separated by thousands of miles, their lives often mirror each other, particularly when it comes to their relationship with their grandchildren. And so, while the ending might break your heart, there is also authentic hopefulness. The repetition in the narrative, the idea that history and the universe will repeat the lesson until you learn it, the cycle, will be broken.