If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here

if you look for me

Set in a newly independent India, If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here tells the beautiful story of a young boy named Siva. Born to a mother who longs for a daughter, Siva, the surviving male twin is rejected by his mother following his sister’s death at birth. Dealing with a fate beyond his control, what unfolds is a stunning story about loss, change, identity and the cyclical nature of history. Siva’s life, much like the newly independent India in which it is set, is subject to brutal external factors and an inherited legacy of pain.  As colonial rule leaves India in upheaval, suspended between an imperialist past and new found liberation, She is pulled apart and so too is Siva. Torn between who he is and who he feels he should be, his identity is questioned and explored beyond the usual gender binary. Resisting the identity limitations that are imposed by largely Christian ideals Siva unwittingly emulates his namesake. The millenia old androgynous Hindu idol who represents male and female (Ardhanarishvara), who is neither born nor dead and encapsulates contradictory elements in order to bring about positive change and balance. Srivatsa writes with immense skill and a deftness of touch that is both deeply moving and empowering. She draws on the strengths of thousands of years’ heritage to help summon the power to prevent history repeating itself. Yet her themes are understated, current and profound, simultaneously celebrating and criticising India.  As an Asian in the diaspora this is exactly the type of story I want/need to read, because it feels like it was written for me. Let me explain. Lots of stories are written for wider, dare I say, whiter, audiences and usually there are little flag bearers in books which sometimes feel like buzzwords/topics put in, in order to appeal to ‘mainstream’ publishers and audiences. (I don’t blame authors for this at all by the way, but rather a skewed publishing industry and the middle-class, middle- aged white women they so pander to.) I’ve picked three buzzwords/topics in relation to the country written about off the top of my head to give you an example:

Pakistan: Taliban/Jihad/ Drones

Afghanistan: Taliban/Oppressed women

Somalia: FGM/Warlords/ Pirates

Look Familiar?

giphy

I often (and I’m sure many other PoC do too) almost subconsciously pick up on these ‘buzz’ words/topics, but what felt liberating is that this book had none! Another example of this is when I told a friend about the book and I said it was about an Indian mother who wanted a daughter, she instinctively ‘corrected’ me and said ‘you mean son!’ That is the extent to which PoC  are typecast and stereotyped in mainstream literature- that we often feel that we already know their stories before we have even read them. We are too often reduced to reading pigeonholed, homogeneous caricatures of ourselves, in order to fulfil a diversity quota for others. PoC are not afforded the nuance and differences that reflect our reality in literature (or if we are, it’s only published through brilliant small independent publishers!) But If You look For Me, I am Not Here is refreshingly different. Instead it hones in on an intimate and interesting story of personal struggle to show an honest and often overlooked part of the subcontinent in literature- heterogeneity. And that to me is what diversity in literature should look like. Easily an early contender for one of my best reads this year, I already can’t wait for her next book.

Thanks to Bluemoose Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. (And thanks for publishing it!!)

20 comments

  1. I love this– this book seems right up my alley! I absolutely feel the same way regarding the buzz words. It’s so difficult to find a book about Afghanistan that isn’t an offshoot of the “Three Cups of Tea” variety. The nuance is missing, definitely.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. High praise for this novel! I noticed it is fairly new and relatively unknown. There are currently 0 reviews and only 2 people have marked it as to-read on Goodreads. You should go over to Goodreads (if you have a profile) and publish your review there as well! This book sounds great and it deserves to be further discussed and promoted.

    I especially liked your anecdote about telling your friend what the book was about and your friend assuming you were mistaken!
    Thank you for this review. This, too, is the kind of story I want to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like a rich, beautiful, and ambitious novel. And the subject matter is definitely right up my alley! Great review — made me want to look further into the novel, I am even tempted to order it without questions but my TBR list is higher than Everest.

    And how beautiful is that cover? If anything, this review has made me want to research Bluemoose Books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a brilliant book, I say go for for it- although I know what you mean about ever growing TBR lists!Do find out more about Bluemoose as publishers like this need our support if we want to keep getting such a fantastic, varied quality of books. I’m tempted to do a post about smaller publishers to look out for too.

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  4. YES! That’s both because I loved this book too and because I hate the stories written for Western audiences too (and I’m white). I have to admit I didn’t realise that was what was off-putting to me until I did a masterclass at uni with Patricia Duncker. She provided us with a few pages from a book I’d never heard of and then went through where it signaled it’s been written for Westerners. We then talked about The Kite Runner – I really hate that book – and now I know why.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Although I do think it’s a problem with the publishing industry and society at large and I can’t really blame the authors. I mean what hope would an Afghan writer have of being published if they didn’t address those issues? As a book blogger even, lots of people only want to send me books about Jihadi brides etc because that’s all I could possibly comment on with authority (even though I couldn’t!) I think a full circle shift needs to occur (and things like read diverse have helped that) where *an array* of books by PoC are made available and where PoC are allowed to react to them. Otherwise we run the risk of diversity in books becoming just a fad for the same old audience.

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      • Yes, I should’ve clarified that I’m not blaming authors who feel they have to write that way to be published in the West. It’s a grim situation and one that winds me up no end. Completely agree with you on the array of books needed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oops, I should have clarified!I know you’re not blaming them, I meant generally- I know you can empathise with the frustration! If I was cool and American, I’d say you were ‘woke’ but seeing as I’m neither of those things, lets settle for ‘well informed’! Love your interview with Srivatsa btw, you lucky mare! lol 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yay, that is so wonderful to see, a book that doesn’t (have to) pander to white Western audiences but presents the humanity and not oppression of poc! I’ll have to look for a copy, probably buy it though, because my library here loves to buy only the trope-y poc books and marks them “foreign/strange countries.” Small-town German library, let me tell you. Last week I was again congratulated for not wearing any type of headscarf 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “As an Asian in the diaspora this is exactly the type of story I want/need to read, because it feels like it was written for me. Let me explain. Lots of stories are written for wider, dare I say, whiter, audiences and usually there are little flag bearers in books which sometimes feel like buzzwords/topics put in, in order to appeal to ‘mainstream’ publishers and audiences. (I don’t blame authors for this at all by the way, but rather a skewed publishing industry and the middle-class, middle- aged white women they so pander to.)”

    This. THIS. Nearly cried reading this because this is SO TRUE. So glad I found your blog, I can relate so much, I’m overwhelmed with the feels. Thank you. Added this to my immediate TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds like a great read. Like your friend, I immediately thought “She wanted a daughter?” How unexpected, having characters who portray individual and unique traits. (Haha, years of stereotypical novels make me sarcastic.) I’m definitely adding this to my tbr. Btw, I’ve tagged you in the Diverse Books Tag if you’d like to participate 🙂 link: https://ladydisdainnotes.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/the-diverse-books-tag/

    Liked by 1 person

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