28 Mar Book Review: A Thousand Unspoken Words by Paulami DuttaGupta
Just before I first picked up A Thousand Unspoken Words, I had finished reading some very difficult but hard-hitting books like Status Single and Mornings in Jenin. In fact, the only reason I picked up this one was that I was looking for a feel-good romance that would make me all dreamy-eyed and therefore reduce the emotional and mental strain I had been through while reading the previous books.
A hero, a person who displays great courage for the greater good, can also fall. But what happens to a fallen hero? A Thousand Unspoken Words is the unique journey of a hero who falls.
The champion of the underdogs, the writer who uses the nom de plume Musafir is famous in Kolkata. His incisive criticism of the injustices around him earn him many enemies but he holds his ideals above all else. Scathing attacks at his books and a night of hide and seek from political goons leads Musafir unto a path he never liked, faraway from his ideals. He runs away and chooses the comforts of money over the travails of following one’s ideals. The hero falls.
But Tilottama, passionate fan’s hopes don’t. When he comes back after many years, emotions, love and lust take charge and an affair brews. Will she bring back her hero? Will he rise again? Or will the thousand untold words, the many stories of the ideal writer be lost forever?
The book starts off on an intriguing albeit predictable premise – two strangers meet on a stormy night. But that’s where the tropes end. For here is no damsel in distress or knight in shining armour.
Meet Tilotamma – a fiery fan and reader of Musafir – a daring writer whose real identity is under wraps. Years later, after his real identity has already been revealed, Musafir returns and, much to her disgust and disappointment, chooses fame and money over his own ideals. But what happens when fate brings them together again?
Love isn’t all roses and balloons, as any real-life couple would tell you. And neither is it love at first sight for our protagonists – Tilotamma and Riddhiman. But fall in love they do and despite all differences – of ideologies, individual personalities, and expectations vs. reality that crop up as the villains in their love story – strive to stay together.
This is no flowery, breezy romance. And I, no stranger to Paulami’s writing. (I read her other book, Onaatah – of the Earth, first. It is one of my all-time favourites.) I should have expected a heavy dose of a realistic portrayal of love in all its glory and pain. Because I did not, the book completely took me by surprise.
DuttaGupta, through her evocative writing, presents a picture of what love is in its full form. Dark, healing, soulful, searing, hopeful, unrealistic expectations, irresistible attraction, clashing egos – the story presents love with the whole set of its accompanying emotions and problems.
And yet, romance is not all that this book is about. The brilliance of A Thousand Unspoken Words is that it is not just a look at the relationship between a man-woman but also those of a mother-child, father-son, brothers, friends, and even, professional colleagues.
The story has several layers and issues that are dealt with very subtly and sensitively – mental illness, feminism and women empowerment, the ever-existent conflict between materialism and idealism.
The flawed characters and their eccentricities are presented well, and compel the reader to empathize without judgement. However, sometimes you do end up taking sides, purely due to your personal beliefs, and yet in the very next scene, the change in narrative has you switching sides or taking on a neutral stance even. Tilotamma and Riddhiman, both had me raving mad at them and sympathizing with them in turns. It was difficult to find reasons to completely love or hate either of them. Despite the glaring flaws in each character, it is easy to understand their motivations and accept them for who they are. The author makes sure that at no time are you able to decide who is right and who is wrong. The complexities of love and relationships are presented brilliantly and make for a heart-breakingly realistic read.
Even the supporting characters are well-etched. The city of Kolkata isn’t just the setting in the story but an intrinsic part of the story.
Unfortunately, due to a random exchange about this book with a friend, I had already guessed the ending and yet the story-telling is so engaging and gripping, that I couldn’t tear myself away from the book to know how the ending comes to be as such.
Indeed, the writing itself is brilliant and the story-telling natural. There were times when I re-read parts just to absorb how deftly the author had given away critical details or set up the scene for the next major event to unfold – all of this was done so subtly that one would have missed them had you not been paying attention.
What I also found commendable was that it raises some very intriguing questions and makes one ponder about artistic freedom, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and the constant struggle to achieve a balance between monetary gain and creative satisfaction.
- Who is bigger – the art or the artist who creates that same art?
- Can a creative person create art that they personally don’t believe in?
- What’s the price for art (or the artist) to be successful?
- What’s better – art that is only a commercial success (but may make no impact on society) or art that truly inspires (but fails to gain popularity)?
- And finally, what are the parameters that decide and define the ‘success’ when it comes to art?
I don’t have any answers but what I do know is that reading this book has been an immense learning experience. It taught me a lot about writing – as a craft and as a creative form of expression. As the blurb says, a hero (in this case, the artist), can also fall. But what happens to a fallen hero?
At no time did I feel like a reader looking in but instead was completely absorbed in the fictional world that DuttaGupta creates.
Though A Thousand Unspoken Words left me emotionally drained, this is one book that I would highly urge all to read. Definitely recommend this to all those who like real romance stories that reflect real people and real life.
Grab your copy of Paulami DuttaGupta’s A Thousand Unspoken Words, published by Readomania here.
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