Monday, July 1, 2019
Published November 2018 by Inanna Publications
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review
Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents’ uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman’s journey from harm to care.
You know how often I've forgotten what a book is about before I read it; this book takes that up a notch. I was meant to read and review it a few weeks ago but there was a problem getting the book from the publisher, moving my review back to the point where I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. This meant that, on the heels of our dear friends having lost their son in an accident, picking up a book and finding out that it was about the death of a young man was initially a bit of a gut punch. I wasn't sure I could read it. I am so glad that I stuck with it.
I don't know what experience Kushwaha has with grief; but, my god, did it feel like she had to have lived through the loss of a loved one as intimately and honestly as this book feels. I felt like the ladies at TLC Book Tours had put this book into my hands at this time to help me understand exactly what my friends might be feeling. When Kavita finds her mother crouched on Sunil's bedroom floor, her head resting on his bed, and his urn protected between two couch cushions on the bed, I could easily imagine this being the way a mother might react. Kushwaha's description of Kavita's guilt, her need to help her parents through their own grief, and talks with her brother's spirit are heartbreaking.
What really felt like Kushwaha had reached the truth of grief were the three "people" Kavita began carrying inside her: Anchor, Black Gloom, and Blaze. We're all familiar with Elisabeth Kugler-Ross' five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. But Anchor, Black Gloom, and Blaze make it clear that those "stages" aren't necessarily stages, one doesn't necessarily pass through them one at a time. In the two weeks since our friends lost their son, I know they have experienced denial, anger, and depression. Two weeks later, I can't imagine anyone expecting them to go on with their lives as if nothing has happened, yet that is exactly what Nirav, Kavita's husband, expects from her. And his family if unwilling to acknowledge that Sunil is even dead; they are more concerned about when the couple might start a family. It's no wonder that Kavita would reach out for understanding from others who might be more sympathetic and I was so hoping that she would find finally find the support she so desperately needed.
I'm certain that when I was pitched this book, the ladies at TLC Book Tours made sure to tell me it was about an Indian family (they know me so well!) plus the book is largely set in Canada (and I do love to find great books from Canadian authors). The truth of the matter is, though, that this book is about a part of life that is universal. Kavita's heritage, the country she lives in, are just parts of the story but her grief is without country or heritage.
Two quibbles: first, some of the characters, particularly in Nirav's family, felt a bit like stereotypes; secondly, there were quite a lot of grammatical errors and typos in the book. I kept checking, thinking that this might not be a finished copy but it is and it's a shame that a book this good is handicapped in this way. Still, neither of these was enough to impact my impression of the book and I raced through it in just a couple of days.
check out the full tour.
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