Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Book Review: Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti

Book: Jorasanko

Author: Aruna Chakravarti

Pages: 406

Read: The paperback pictured above

Read in: 2-3 days

Plot Summary: Jorasanko was right at the hub of the Bengal Renaissance, with the family at the forefront of the movement, and its women playing a pivotal role.

In a sprawling novel that spans a unique phase in the history of Bengal and India, Aruna Chakravarti provides a fascinating account of how the Tagore women influenced and were int urn influenced by their illustrious male counterparts, the times they lived in and the family they belonged to. 

She paints memorable portraits of women like Digambari, Dwarkanath's strong-willed wife who refuses to accept her husband's dalliance with alcohol and Western ways; Sarada Sundari, the obese, indolent but devoted wife of Debendranath, who is appalled to see the old world order slipping by; the indomitable Jogmaya, who takes on Debendranath and splits the Tagore family in two. 

There are also the young daughters and daughters-in-law. The tough, resourceful Jnanadanandini who gave the women of Bengal a new way of wearing the sari and initiated the concept of 'nuclear family'; Swarnakumari, universally acknowledged as a pioneer of women's writing in India; and Rabindranath's muse the gentle, melancholic Kadambari.

Jorasanko mirrors the hopes and fears, triumphs and defeats that the women of the Tagore household experienced in their intricate interpersonal relationships, as well as the adjustments they were continually called upon to makw as daughters and daughters-in-law of one of the most eminent families of the land.

General Thoughts: 2016 for me began with Tagore. I watched the movie Kadambari based on the home life of Tagore and his sister-in-law and I was intrigued to find out more about the inner life of Bengal's foremost poet. I also read a few short-stories from Tagore, which I enjoyed immensely. I wanted to delve more into his work and read more about his family and life. 

Tagore is a huge part of Bengali life and culture. You can't be a Bengali and not have Tagore play an integral role in your life. I have cousins who have their PhD in Rabindra Sangeet. My mother is trained in Rabindra sangeet. As a child, all the bookshelves in my home were lined with all his work. Beautiful hardback editions of all of his poetry and stories. 

For me, born and raised away from Bengal, Tagore was in the background of my life but never played a huge role. It was only as an adult that I began to appreciate the many contributions Tagore has made to literature and I wanted to learn more and read more. 

Things I Loved: 

1. The writing was great. Simple and elegant and it painted this world in vivid colours. 

2. I really appreciate the research that must have gone into this book. The amount of work that the author must have put in and it shows, this book is rich in detail and yet wholly human and relatable. 

3. The honesty in this book is great too. I love that the author didn't sugar-coat things. Even though she is writing about an illustrious family she doesn't for a moment shy away from sharing their not-so-shining moments. She doesn't take sides. She doesn't flinch from showing their darker side and certain unimpressive things from the Tagore clan. Even the great Rabindranath Tagore isn't shown in a shining halo at all times. I really, really appreciated this. 

4. I love reading about families and how people live, whether now or in the past. So this book was a treat for me. 

5. The characters in this book, so many of them are memorable and come alive and the author has done a good job in giving each of them due importance. 

6. I especially enjoyed reading about the women in the family. Their lives had such a limited arena to function in. They literally had the home to themselves and that was their home life. It was interesting to read about the purdah in a Hindu household and see how women lived in the inner sanctums of homes. 

7. I also loved the inner workings and petty politics in this family. It was refreshing to see that no matter how wealthy or elite you are, the family feuds are pretty much the same across the board. 

8. It was also fun to see Tagore as a child and see him become the great poet that he grows up to be. 

9. Kadambari's life was tragic and my heart broke for her and her little unfulfilled life. I knew about it  and I knew what was coming yet it was sad. 

10. Jnanadanandini was also a fantastic woman to get to know about through this book. It was amazing to see her grow up from a timid, sad, under confident little girl to an utterly modern woman in her youth. I could read a whole book on her just her. And she is such a delightfully real, layered and sometimes grey character. So interesting to see her journey through life. 

Rating: 5/5 

I loved this book. It is such a curious mix between fiction and fact. However, this book isn't for everyone. If you are a Tagore fanatic you will enjoy this book. If you vaguely know about the Tagore's (like me) you'll enjoy this book. If you are Bengali...you will most likely enjoy this book. But if you have no idea who Rabindranath Tagore is or what the Tagore family meant and stood for...you might not love this book, yet this is still an interesting story about a family in an interesting time in our history. 

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