One of my resolutions for this year is to read good books, especially from my TBR. My bookshelf has quite a few hundreds of books right now- brand new, untouched. I am on a book ban and I am trying to read as many books as possible from it.
However, I was in a dilemma as to which book I had to pick as my first read of 2019. But I made sure that a week into the new year, I ticked off three books from my TBR. Yay me!
Ever since Jasmine Days by Benyamin had won the JCB Prize for Literature, I wanted to read it. If not for this award, I wouldn’t have even known of such a book (says a lot about my taste in literature, doesn’t it?). The beautiful cover was another plus which made me want to own it. It was also doing the rounds on Instagram and most of the bookstagrammers had high praises for it.
Read to know why.
“You know how it is when you arrive in a new place and feel like you don’t belong there? That hesitation to reckon with new geography. That knowledge that this place is not mine, these ways of talking are not mine, these silences are not mine, this etiquette is not mine. So many new things to absorb. And the place also takes a little time to accept the new person. Often you have to meet the place on its own terms. Sometimes you have to work hard to earn your little corner in it. Till that place become yours, till you find your own equilibrium, there will be a gap between you and the place.”
Jasmine Days by Benyamin tells the story of Sameera Parvin, a Pakistani expat trying to find her way in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fictively called The City. She stays with her father and relatives in ‘Taya Ghar’, an extended family home, where her uncle aka Taya is all powerful. He is a high-ranking police official who got her father a job in the City, in the Police department.
Sameera lands a job as a Radio Jockey in Orange Studio which she is excited about. Her Hindi station is at odds with the Malayalam station which are managed by expats from Kerala, known as Malayalam Mafia. Sameera befriends Ali Fardan, a Sunni Muslim whose belief in a revolution of the City is unwavering. He is tagged ‘Second-class’ for his Iranian origin. Ali is also an admirer of Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group.
The dynamics of the story changes when the City gets torn apart by communal violence and religious conflicts. It was also a revolution between the City’s ‘second-class’ and the ruler, His Majesty.
The book is in the form of a story narration by Sameera to Javed. She talks about all the horrific things she had to experience during the riots and how her family was targetted because they were immigrants and worked in the police department. She experiences the loss of a loved one and is crushed to find herself at crossroads, amidst what’s right and loyalty and friendship.
Jasmine Days by Benyamin: Book Review
A hard-hitting book – that’s what Jasmine Days is for me.
Why the name Jasmine Days?
I confess I had to read more about the Arab Spring Revolution and why it was named Jasmine Revolution to further understand the crux of the book. Now that says something. I love it when a book is insightful and enlightens you. While this could be fiction, most parts of the story can be related to real-world revolutions. Jasmine Days taught me so many new things and for that, I am thankful.
You can find yourself overwhelmed with a plethora of new information – be it the discrimination between Sunni and Shia Muslims, expats vs nationals or democracy vs dictatorship. The story also speaks volumes about the struggle of women in a patriarchal society.
The author has subtly incorporated what a revolution or riot brings at the end of the day. Innocent blood is spilled, they live in a constant state of fear and are scarred for generations.
The Narration and Characterization
The book is narrated in a simple yet powerful manner. It was impossible for me to put down the book and I finished it in one sitting. It is also an effortless read and the book is majorly divided into small chapters that are easy to digest. That says a lot because I believe politics doesn’t make for a painless read. The book is raw and gritty for it captures your emotions in a hard-hitting way and I absolutely loved the prose style.
Sameera comes across as someone with immense inner strength but I was a tad bit disappointed with how she behaved at the end. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t feel a strong emotional connection.
I loved the characters of her Baba (Dad) and Taya (Uncle). Baba is a simple loving man and reading about him made my eyes fill up with tears.
Why I love Jasmine Days by Benyamin
I for one loved how unbiased the author is. He doesn’t take sides while portraying the events. While the climax was something that I expected, it wasn’t wholesome, leaving to the reader’s imagination. As I mentioned before, I loved how insightful this book is for I got so curious about the whole Arab Spring revolution and the Shia and Sunni Muslim discrimination that I decided to read up further.
The book also makes you realize how futile it is to fight over religion. While there are many facets about it, in the end, it is frivolous to kill another human being over religious sectarianism.
I also loved the platonic relationship between Sameera and Ali, who love and admire each other.
| Buy Jasmine Days from Amazon
Jasmine Days – Some Facts:
Jasmine Days was first published in Malayalam by Benyamin in 2014 as ‘Mullappoo Niramulla Pakalukal.’ This book had been translated into English by Shahnaz Habib.
Jasmine Days is part of a twin novel, the first part being ‘Al Arabian Novel Factory’. I believe that the translation is to be released this year.
The book has won the first JCB Prize for Literature and Crossword’s Jury Award for Best Translation.
Jasmine Days – Favourite Lines:
“The Islam I learned is the Islam of goodness and patience. I don’t know how Islam became a religion of hatred and anger.”
“In the most trying moments of your life, do only that you know to be absolutely right. Thousands of people will approach you and offer thousands of opinions. Do not be influenced, do not give into temptations. Stand steadfast in truth. You will win.”
“Some silences are more meaningful than thousands of long sentences.”
“It’s best to be alone when you are sad. I wanted to be myself and feel my strength slowly seeping back into me.”
Do I Recommend?
A hard-hitting book that shakes you to the core.
Shining 4 on 5!
|Details of the Book|
|Title: Jasmine Days||Publisher: Juggernaut|
|Author: Benyamin, Shahnaz Hamid(Translator)||ISBN: 978-93-8622-874-1|
|Genre: Fiction||No: of Pages: 264|
Love it? You may want to pin it for later!
You must definitely grab this book from Amazon:
Shau, this sounds like an amazing read! I especially loved the quotes you chose to highlight. I’m adding this to my TBR. Thank you!!
Mayuri Nidigallu says
The cover is eye catching, and your review tells me the story matches it too. Thanks for a balanced and awesome review, Shalini. Adding the book to my TBR list.
Balaka Basu says
I love the cover. Honestly, I had not heard about this book before. Just like you, I wanted to read more on the Arab Spring but I was looking for non-fiction books. Now that you mentioned this book I will add it to my TBR. Thanks Shalini.
Sounds like a read right up my street! This is going on my TBR.
Love the cover of the book!
I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about the Middle East these days and this book fits right in.
On it goes to my TBR.
What a gorgeous cover- I have been seeing this too a lot and been thinking of picking it up! Its on my Bday wishlist for now as I am not buying books.
Loved the way you have reviewed this one Shalini – the different sections of thoughts really helped to understand the book. I am quite sure about reading it now!
Anamika Agnihotri says
The cover is indeed fascinating and so is the story. Reading the plot felt like I am reading my own story from the present times trying to find myself in a foreign land. Moving on, I did get it the story is far more distinct and intense. Reading about the Arav Spring and the jasmine revolution is part of my reading list now.
Modern Gypsy says
That’s a beautiful cover! And the book sounds very interesting. The Shia-Sunni divide is very old; most conflicts in Muslim countries are between Shias and Sunnis. Sometimes I think religion should be banned from public discourse. Practice it within your home, among your family; but it should just not be public. Most conflicts arise from religion and caste lines – all our Gods must be so sad by what we humans are doing in their name. Anyway…. if I wasn’t on a book buying ban myself, I would have rushed to buy this book. I’m adding it to my wish list for … whenever I lift the ban!
Shilpa Garg says
I have been reading some great reviews about this book and your review has sealed it for me. Am picking it up soon also because I like reading about Islamic world. And the book fits in with my reading challenges prompts too!! Thanks for sharing!
Ramya Abhinand says
I got to read this shalu… pending for soooo long :))
MEENAKSHI J says
Off-late I have been reading regional books translated into English and this fits the bill. You have put forth a very balanced view of Jasmine Days and glad that it has won the award. Will surely grab a copy once I am done with the very first book *ashamed* !
Sanch @ Sanch Writes says
Sounds like a book that’s right up my alley! Thanks for the review Shalini – it’s on my TBR list