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Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup: A Short Review

Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup: A Short Review

by Harsh Kichambare

“The Best Stories are the ones that are still to come…Close enough to hear, smell, and admire. Yet out of reach.”

Working as a journalist and looking to research upon the Colonial Ghosts that haunt the Andaman Islands, Ms. Shubhangi Swarup was stuck in a guest house whilst a storm raged outside. The month of June brought with it frequent storms on the archipelago and of course, power cuts. To distract herself from the stories of long-gone Britishers who still haunt their lands, she turned to write. Soon these Colonial Ghosts percolated their way into the book and gave way to its plot. Just like these ghosts, is the case for the 2018 book titled ‘Latitudes of Longing’. As in, the book will haunt you even after you’ve finished reading it, albeit in a beautiful way.

The Author’s debut novel won the Tata Literature Live! Award for Debut Fiction was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award 2020 and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Indian Literature.

Looking at the buzz around the book, I too had bought it. A time where people didn’t wear masks and there was neither longing for the “old days”, it remained on the shelf as I gave up reading as a whole. But soon, lockdown hit. It harmed my reading and I ended up procrastinating the entire time.

That was until one day I decided to pick this book up and start reading. It had drawn me into this beautiful sunset of a book, as I walk into the shore and the water grabs my feet and takes me into a world I have never seen, and yet felt. You, the reader should go and read the book if you can before finishing this article, because the novel deserves to be read, and in its lovely entirety. But I’ll try to do it justice in this review, in case you’ve decided to stay and take my word before you decide to go get the book!

*Minor spoilers ahead*

The book is divided into four sections: Islands, Faultlines, Valley, and Snow Desert.

It spans across different topographies from the tropical rainforests of Andaman to the glaciers and snow-clad mountains of the Karakoram Range. The environment of the book plays a much important part, almost moving and breathing in synergy to give you a feeling of “Fernweh”, meaning, the longing for a far-off place you have never been to.

The author spent 7 years on the book and her effort is quite visible. On the canvas of this novel, the author paints a vivid scenery. And as we traverse through these places, the characters of the novels themselves go through a journey of their own, dealing with love, loss, life, and longing. The author does a good job to create strong and memorable characters including the likes of Girija Prasad, Chanda Devi, Mary, Plato, etc.

The islands talk about the story of a newly married couple, who are living on a tropical island as they learn more about each other and the environment they are in. This couple, under isolating silence of the water traverse through the journeys of an emerging Independent India and also of the ghosts, both literal and metaphoric of the Colonial Era.

Faultlines follow the life of the couples’ maid, Mary, who was originally from Myanmar, and also of her son Plato, who ironically is taken as a political prisoner. Valley follows the story of a friend of Plato, and the story takes place around Nepal as we see him be with a girl that is old enough to be his granddaughter. The final part, Snow Desert takes place in the Karakoram mountains and follows the journey of Apo.

By the time you do get to the final part of the book, you might feel a certain repetition with nothing new being added to the book. Yet the author manages to keep up her beautiful writing, combining themes across the borders of politics, culture, and the environment. Every page in the book feels like an undiscovered pristine location, waiting to be seen by the reader. However, this comes with its own exhaustion, much to the disarray of the readers in the dream-like flow.

The beautiful and lyrical debut of the author shows much promise and leaves with a ghost of itself as you put it down. Sooner or later, the ghost will catch up with you and remind you of the waters of the Andaman Islands, the waves crashing against one another and its trees swaying in the wind.

This book can surely get you out of a reading slump if you are in one with its beautiful and lyrical prose and its interesting, strong characters.

Happy Reading!

- Harsh Kichambare

To read more article written by Harsh Kichambare - CLICK HERE

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