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.
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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|
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