The story is carefully woven to evoke a sense of discovery, hope, romance and unrequited love
econd Coming, the debut novel by poet, essayist and art critic M Athar Tahir is a delightful misadventure set in the alleys of love and vulnerability. It explores limits, the truth of ageing, unreciprocated ardour, healthy wanting and emptiness.
In some places, the novel seems autobiographical. The author and his protagonist – a well-read, upstanding man of the world, become one. Then one is reminded that it is a piece of fiction – but what is fiction? Is it not a reality stemming from multifaceted experiences; some real, others imagined. Second Coming is, in many ways, a coming-of-the-age story – an older man realising that the romances of youth and those of middle age and beyond are not the same and that the expectation of reciprocation varies with age. As a pre-teen falling in love with Azizah and a sixty-plus-years-old exploring the possibility of discovering a deeper, more profound connection with Sukhon Urairat are two different people. The former only knows love, pure in its most untainted form, a love that stems from prettiness and youth, always remembered but never a cause of true ache, even when unreciprocated. The second love is more deep-cutting and passionate because it forces one to look inwards and find it in their heart and soul to move beyond the expectations of reciprocation.
The journey through Thailand is one of discovery for the protagonist. His trip to the country of the ‘beloved’ is eye-opening as it aids the realisation that the five long years of longing were for a tabeeb (physician) that never existed. Dr Su could never provide him with the love he desperately wanted.
Second Coming is the story of the protagonist and his experience of life and love and interactions with the world… It explores the world of passion but with a subtlety stemming from experience and age.
The nameless protagonist of Tahir’s novel is an author, not innately desperate. He is a man willing to work for love and wait for it. But for five years, he finds meaning in a meaningless correspondence between two strangers who met only once, their positions oddly juxtaposed. One reads meaning into emoticons and endearments, which are mere pleasantries for the other (Dr Su). This stems from a yearning of the soul. He has tried to discover love and fall in love it twice before, first with the Devine and then his wife, but failed. The forced loves have failed to soothe his soul – they have turned into dutiful devotion, expected and accepted. It is with the stranger that he falls into a consuming love, a deviant passion, that leads him to discover that passionate love is not only for the youth; that it can manifest at any age. And that it can jostle one, give rise to fears unknown, cast despair, make one resent the vacancy that sits in the heart and force the lover to find peace in deep recesses of life.
Dr Su is an enigma. On the surface, she is a simple scientist who has learnt to live a careful life, frugal even. Her story is about financial struggle, family problems and constant effort, but her character has an underlying vivaciousness. Why does she invite the author for a trip to her country? Why does she keep in touch with him from France by email for five years? Why does she meticulously plan the journey with the author, only to make him feel that he is just another acquaintance bordering on a friend? Why does she never participate in any of the activities with the author while on their trip? These are some of the questions that even the protagonist needs help with answering. She shares with him details of her life, even confides in him a little, but never reveals anything substantial. We learn of her previous three ‘couplings’, two with older men, but are never made privy to the reason for the breakups. She is unwell, but we never find out the true extent of her ailment or its nature. She never truly bids the protagonist farewell, she just leaves. The inner world of Sukhon Urairat is never truly penetrated.
Second Coming is the story of a protagonist and his experience of life and love and interactions with the world. It is a story carefully woven to evoke a sense of discovery, hope, romance and unrequited love. It explores the world of passion but with a subtlety stemming from experience and age. It is tantalising and telling, but restrained. A good read, for sure.
Author: M Athar Tahir
Publisher: Lightstone Publishers, 2022
Pages: 190, Paperback
The reviewer is a staff member