This book is the winner of the JCB Prize for literature 2018, and was the book of the month pick of a book tube channel that I follow, Books On Toast. I had bought this book from a indie bookstore in Pune a few months back, and as luck would have it, I was able to move this from my TBR shelf to my ‘Read’ shelf finally, and I must say, I’m so glad I read this book. The book was published in Malayalam, by the best selling author of ‘Goat Days’ – Benyamin, and translated to English by Shahnaz Habib.
The story is about a 17 year old girl who moves from Pakistan to a Middle East city to work and live with her father. She works as an RJ, and has a large and well respected family that she lives with. She is loved and admired in her job and builds some good friendships over the months. However, suddenly, her life gets embroiled in a ‘revolution’ that takes the city by grip, and this is her account of what follows – how her world is turned upside down and how her relationships are tested.
Although the subject of the story will seem harsh, violent and feel like it is surrounded by hate and revenge, I felt that the story was actually about love, forgiveness and empathy. It is easy to hate a person whose views don’t match yours, or whose views are extreme, or well, who is a murderer or a terrorist. But as Kahlil Gibran writes in his Prophet, on the difference between good and evil – ‘Evil is not the opposite of good, it is just the absence of good at that particular moment, and that we must always try to see the bigger picture of how the evil came into action in the first place, because more often that not, we will realise, that somewhere, we had a hand in the creation of that evil, or that evil deed.’
One could categorise this book in the YA genre, just because the narrator is a 17 year old girl, but I would still say, that adults will enjoy reading this book, its narration and learning about some of the underlying facts mentioned in the book, equally. I’m not much of a general knowledge person. There is so much to know and learn on this planet, and my tiny brain just finds it hard to digest news and current affairs, because call me a cynic, but most of the times I don’t believe the news. And even though most of the books I read are fiction, a lot of them are inspired by real life events, or written by people who have experienced the truth living on the ground, and write about their experiences in the form of a story. And that is why I really enjoy reading a book, that gives me knowledge as well as perspective, in the form of a good story.
I read about Shias and Sunnis of the Islamic faith and their internal turmoil, I read what Pakistanis think of Indians (since I already know about how Indians think of Pakistanis), I read about some of the people looked up by the middle eastern community, I read and learned about another Lebanese terrorist organisation and how these organisations feed on young people’s tragedies to enable them to not to good. Some of the questions the protagonist, Sameera, asks herself, or to the person she is writing these letters to, are so valid. Why do we fight, what do we achieve to gain from this, who is right, which team has a right to win, do all revolutions end in another form of discrimination or inequality?
I would recommend this book to everyone, just because it is such as easy read and yet, there is so much emotion and information packed into this story – it really hits you hard and makes you think. Great book for a book club discussion as well.
Questions to you guys:
Have you read a YA book that had mature enough content that it seemed almost like an adult contemporary or adult fiction novel, even though the protagonist was a teenager?
Do you feel sceptical about what the news tells us today? Or do you feel sometimes that the news might be tweaked to satisfy ratings and what people want to read, instead of what they should be reading about?
3 thoughts on “Jasmine Days by Benyamin, translated by Shahnaz Habib”
ah this hits so close to home I’d rather avoid reading those kind of books. That sounds shallow, but reading for me is a form of escapism.
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I know what you mean, when you say you read to escape. Because that’s what I do mostly too. But once in a while I like to know what is going on in other parts and communities of the world if it is written well and can be digested via a good story, instead of reading news 😊
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