A multi-generational tale of identity, immigration and resilience
ebut, immersive, immigration are some of the words that best describe Jyoti Patel’s The Things We Lost.
In this explorative novel, Nik thinks he knows his parents until he finds out that he doesn’t. Having an Indian heritage, he cannot undo his connection with his past. It is tenuous and fragile and lacks true belonging. Raised in a Harrow-based household in London, infused with British-Kenyan-Gujarati influences, Nik discerns the contrast between inquiries about his origin posed by the people surrounding him with similar ethnic backgrounds and the white people.
However, it’s not his identity and his questionable state that bothers him. His family’s history has left him some bitter stuff to deal with. To that end he seeks answers. Upon his grandfather’s passing, he is bequeathed a literal key to unlock the closely protected enigmas of his parents’ history, including the abrupt demise of his father. This serves as a catalyst, propelling a family mired in pain, grief and turmoil towards a journey of union or resolution.
The narration oscillates between the mother and son - Avani and 18-year-old Nik. Alternating between Avani’s formative years as a British Indian in 1980s London and Nik’s encounters as a young man of mixed heritage in post-Brexit Britain, the novel separates them by decades but brings them together in experience. It reflects a disheartening continuity of racial bias they both confront.
For instance, during Avani’s time in secondary school, her brother becomes a target of offensive racial slurs. Indicating the Union Jack, he cautions Avani that it represents a certain group and advises her to keep a low profile when encountering it. Years later, as Nik embarks on his university journey in a northern town, he is introduced as Nik, “who wants it to be clear he’s from Harrow.” He realises that “it had stayed with him, this othering, lingering around him like a persistent headache down to London.” Gradually, he feels burdened by the weight of the scrutinising gaze of the white majority.
When Avani’s husband passed away, she didn’t know what to say or think because her mind was an uproar of languages: whispers in Gujarati, a hint of Swahili reminiscent of her parents’ days in Kenya, a dash of French from school, and of course, the dominant English. Carrying Nik in her womb, she experienced sorrow and haunting guilt. The weight eventually compelled her to bury her grief inward and cement an unyielding emotional fortress around herself, excluding her father, brother and son.
With solid characters, a subtle intrigue surrounding the past, and a backdrop of relationships, this book boasts everything a great read should provide.
Inheriting a key and discovering a dark green BMW covered in dust in a garage, what follows is a path guides Nik to his mother. As the story unfolds, a tapestry intricately woven, the truth unveils itself layer by layer, immersing readers in a narrative that is both captivating and intricate.
Hidden truths unfurl, casting shadows over once-cherished relationships and giving way to shattered commitments. With each unexpected turn of events driving the storyline towards a climactic end, the reader becomes an ardent seeker of truth along the way: the fate of Nik’s father.
The book has a stunning cover, yet at 384-page count, its length seemed excessive for the comparatively slow progression of events. Avani and Nik resonate deeply, grappling with their individual yet linked predicaments. Avani’s defiance of her family’s religious boundaries and her mother’s disapproval of marrying outside her faith form a significant backdrop. The demise of her father leaves a void. Nik, on the other hand, navigates through his father’s identity, a perpetual enigma fuelling his curiosity. His relentless musings about the man he never knew and his mother’s resolute silence cast a constant shadow over his existence.
With solid characters, a subtle intrigue surrounding the past, and a backdrop of relationships, the book has everything a great read should provide. However, some brutal editing decisions could have done away with some stagnant moments. Avani’s journey from youth to maturity is intriguing; however, one expects a substantial and more comprehensive conclusion. A sequel could provide further insights into the characters’ growth.
Patel handles romance very well. The narrative never strikes one as overly sentimental or cloying. One appreciates how Patel skilfully weaves romantic moments subtly into the narrative, ensuring that they complement rather than overwhelm other facets of the story.
The Things That We Lost
Author: Jyoti Patel
Publisher: Merky Books, 2023
Pages: 384, Hardcover
The reviewer is a content lead at an agency. Email: sara.amj@hotmail.