Hauntingly Mysterious!

Review of At 5, San Thome – Where The Past Comes Alive; Sarat Kasyap; Prakash Books 2010, pp 184

– Shana Susan Ninan

Your heart beating fast would be only one of the few outward signs that can be noticed while you are reading Hyderabad-based Sarat Kasyap’s At 5, San Thome. Your mind goes for a toss, wondering whom to believe – the author, the narrator of the story or the voice in your head? Written more like the script of a mystery film, the writing characterises all the good points of a movie storyboard. Words that form concrete pictures in front of your eyes as the words adeptly clasp your imagination.

Just like knowledge, a little imagination is a dangerous thing! Or so I found. The story is woven around an artist, Andreas Gonzales, whose death opens up many a mystery. The lead in the story, Rachel, goes through a whirlwind journey unto herself in coming to Vasco to execute Andre’s will. The repressed sadness, anger and confusion that she went through as a little girl and some which she still suffers, resurfaces once she delves into Andre’s past.

Sarat has written the dream sequences in simple present tense – the result achieved is phenomenal. It gives the reader a feel that she’s the protagonist, writhing in and riveting with the turmoil that’s going on. The book has the characteristic and oft-repeated vision of the wheelchair as part of the cover. Having finished reading the book at night, I half expect to see a wheelchair by my door! Probably with a belt-bound man, just like in the story!

The book starts and ends with a linked story. What comes in between is a collage of interspersed themes. The main one I liked is that, ‘all of seek refuge in the unreal – it gives so much relief than what is actually in front of our eyes.’ The concept of ‘family’ and the wholeness of a family is the underlying string that binds the psychological and emotional cravings that are portrayed in the story. For Andre, it might be an obsession with the divine family; for the reader it can be anything from her life, such is the way Sarat has beautifully and cleverly reminded us through this part of the story. The sketch of the San Thome Chapel at the beginning of every Part reiterates the importance, rather the force, of the church and the divine in Andre’s life.

The many themes in Sarat’s book are quite intriguing – they pull you into the book to examine your life more closely. I enjoyed this racy book. I say ‘racy’ cos while reading it, I went outta breath, especially at the parts where the protagonist was dreaming her nightmares! Women feature strongly in At 5, San Thome – at least four of them, plus Mother Mary – in a way that doesn’t seem crowded at all. Again, shows how central the figure of the comforting mother is.

Sarat’s choice of words is, obviously, visual. By the end of the book, the author’s writing leaves you with more questions than answers, which is a good thing cos you go back to the book and look for clues that you can use to fit in your life’s dilemmas.

The book is one of the best I’ve read in the genre in Indian writing. With a bit of smoothening it can be even better. I had a problem with the monologueish narrative at times; maybe more conversations and quotes would help break that. Also, the confusion between the comma and the semi colon, and the overuse of ‘and’ slowed down my reading in certain places.

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Rating: 9.1/10 (14 votes cast)
Hauntingly Mysterious! , 9.1 out of 10 based on 14 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 30th, 2011 at 11:30 pm and is filed under Psychological Thriller, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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