Almost Home: Cities and Other Places, by Githa Hariharan.
Almost Home: Cities and Other Places, by Githa Hariharan. Restless Books (2016), 304 pages. (First published in India, 2014).
A creative collection of essays by an Indian woman combining her perspectives of diverse places, bits of their history, and the power relations that have shaped them.
Githa Hariharan is an author who is grounded in her Indian heritage yet intensely aware of what is happening around the entire globe. She has published highly regarded novels and non-fiction and worked as an editor. Traveling extensively, she probes into stories that usually go unnoticed and reassembles them in new forms. Always concerned with the social context within which individuals live, Hariharan writes incisively about the past and present. As she says on her website,
All my work looks at power politics in some way or the other. Both fiction and non-fiction have a thousand ways of giving us a new take on the dynamics of power relations.
Almost Home is one of the increasingly frequent books that do not fit in our traditional categories. It contains both fact and fiction, memoirs and travel writing, history and social/political analysis. Despite its unusual structure, it is easy to read and provides an enlarged understanding of places around the global and the forces that affect us all.
Frequently Hariharan has focused on what it means to have a home, or to have lost one’s home to forces beyond one’s control. She probes “the human costs of a home no longer home. Where is home when it is an occupied and brutalized place? Or torn apart by civil war? Or a place of prisons run by a dictatorship?” As the title of her book implies, home is an elusive quality in her own life. Although she now settled in Delhi, she has lived and visited all over the globe. She has had “too many homes” to feel she is “native” anywhere. Her book expresses people’s “need to reconstruct home — in words and in personal and political action – and affirm the multiplicity of the places they come from.”
As a small child, Hariharan lived in a close-knit Tamil community in Bombay. Her horizons expanded as her family moved into the larger city, to southern India, and to Manila. After time in New York, she returned to college in Bombay, where she discovered haiku and experienced Japan at a level she had missed when visiting there. After writing about these sites, she moves in a seemingly random fashion to other cities and regions which have touched her deeply. She compares Washington, D.C. to an ancient city in India in their love of monuments. She writes of Kashmiri residents less concerned with religious strife than with the tyrannical actions of the Indian army. In her words Medieval Spain comes to life as a cosmopolitan place where educated aristocratic women proclaimed their independence and a charm could be of either Fatima’s or Mariam’s hand.
Hariharan’s book is a perceptive and enjoyable exposure to voices and situations few of us have imagined. I recommend it highly to readers who delight in such adventures.
Thanks to Restless Books for providing me with a digital copy of this books to review.