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Book Review: The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

When I began reading, The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, the pure beauty and brilliance of the language coupled with the all too powerful narrative of two women from two different worlds stopped me in my tracks. One part of me wanted to devour the book because it seemed like a confluence of literary-cultural fusion but the other part of me wanted to savor every moment of the book, make it stretch to sweetness and pain, as much as possible.

The story is about an illegal Nigerian immigrant who reached England, in search of an English couple, Andrew and Sarah. The emotions, thoughts and conversations that continue buzzing in her head make her as real as you and I. When she lands up at the door of Sarah, it is the day the Englishwoman has just turned widow.
“Most days, I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming…A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind.”

What brings one woman from the African continent to the British Empire? What could possibly be the depth of emotion that brings forth such an impossible journey? The plot unravels, slowly and beautifully, through the contrasting perspectives of two young women.

Another paragraph that caught my attention, the way it was written,
“Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter and warm, strong and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. Also, it vanishes – the taste of it vanishes from your tongue while your lips are still hot from the cup. It disappears like plantations stretching up into the mist.”

For many Africans, the following para is sure to make sense and bring forth a gush of pain because it echoes the throes of exploitation:

“The future is my country’s greatest export. In my country, the future exists in gold nuggets hidden in the rocks or it collects in dark reservoirs far underneath the earth. Our future hides itself from the light but your people come along with a talent for divining it. In this way, fraction by fraction, our future becomes your own. 

To me, a good book offers me a journey. I am packed, ready and set to travel with the protagonists in their journey of life. That is how involved I am with a good book. It consumes my thoughts and fills me even in my dreams, especially the pain of the protagonists come alive. Somehow, somewhere, I feel indebted to such fine, brilliant writers because they continue to inspire me and help me experience the world differently.

Comments

Raji said…
I loved your last few lines about what a good book can offer...I have felt the same way too...
LIFE_REFACTORED said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
LIFE_REFACTORED said…
Swapna,
Encore.. I've said this earlier and I say this again.
You should become a columnist and write literary reviews. The way you write reviews, I want to pickup the book immediately.
The tea plantation para quote was awesome. I was smiling for a long time after finishing the para.
Smita said…
I somehow didn't like the book much!
Vidya said…
A lovely review. Would love to get hold of a copy as soon as possible. Let me finish the one am on now first!
Thanks, friends, really glad that you all shared your thoughts about the book.

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