Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer by Nilanjana Haldar Book Review

This was a supremely unconventional read for me. Most books I read display hints throughout of what the expected goal of the book is; what the characters are trying to find, if there’s someone they’re trying to take down, or if there’s somewhere they’re destined to go. But instead, Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer has the feel of a memoir, of growing up and finding your way as the days and years go by and that path is half carved for you, half your responsibility to shape. Haldar and I are friends, and she told me she was hoping for it to have the feel of a memoir, since all of the traumatizing events and gorgeously described places in this book are, even if they’re told with some fictional characters, from real life experiences of hers.

So, Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer, half memoir half fiction, or a blend of the two only Haldar will ever completely know the factors of, opens up with a teenage girl named Sanjana, from Jalpaiguri, India, writing an entry in her diary, titled Dearest Franny. And Franny’s not the name of a relative she shares secrets with, it’s the name of said diary. Which actually is kind of like that, especially when you’re as close with your diary as she is. We also open to Sanjana’s best friend Kriti late for school and drenched in rain, and their teacher Mrs. Swati has no remorse for whatever reason of her tardiness, even if it wasn’t her fault because the bus was late or if something really bad was going on like her father was having brain and kidney problems that were draining her family’s pockets in an effort to save his life. Sanjana’s not in so much better a sitch at home. Her father belittles her mother for even the simplest mistake or thing not to his complete liking, forcing Sanjana to avoid him as best as possible when she’s unable to sneak off to be with her best friend and escape manmade misery. The two girls end up stumbling upon a mysterious library guard they swear they see in the strangest of places, and they make huge realizations about the world they thought they fully knew, and one thing they know in the back of their heads is the more change there is, the more the world could change for the worst or the best. Maybe tomorrow they’ll be forced away from each other. Maybe there will be some sort of arranged marriage for them. Maybe a long-disgraced relative will walk into their lives. Maybe they’ll even stumble upon what could possibly be actual magic.

I fell in love with Sanjana and Kriti pretty fast. They never felt like unrealistic characters. I got the impression they did want to have someone to love, but seeing how unfair life can be towards them and the abuse men can give, they prefer the solidarity of friendship. The book has loads of side characters that come and go, but Haldar never forgets the two of them are the ones we want to follow. Still, some of the best ones, such as Aditya’s story of just not being in the right profession and being blasted for poor grades he gets only because of all the pressure, Mridul’s story of why his son cut him off entirely from the fam, Aarav and Vivek being handled like machinery…none of these stories rang false to me.

A fair bit of the grown-ups in this book are just nasty, vicious, as inhuman as a pile of rocks. So many parents are either abusive, dismissive, or try to set their children up with a partner or life path and disregard them when they desire thinking for themselves. It truly puzzles me why some adults have children in the first place. So they can keep their legacy going when they’re gone? Some could interpret this book as saying the country needs to change its customs for females and authority, but if it is, it’s also saying out of abuse comes inspiration, out of hate comes love and forgiveness, out of courage comes happiness.

Taking place entirely across India, this book deserves a good chance on the North American market. You read this book and you feel like you’re on vacation there. Haldar magnificently brings forth the neighbourhoods, the markets, the ashrams, the culture, the food, in as many dimensions as a book could ever bring. You could say that books are published everywhere, and you could say the same about a well-written story in Peru, in Germany, in Thailand. But this one does it very well, because Sanjana and Kriti are two characters we’re so emotionally connected to that we’re transported to this world just a little further. Admittedly, I feel the book could have been shorter, and actually could have even been split into two books. By the end it feels like a complete story because it goes full circle on a few things, but Parts 1-2 and 3 are separate stories in various ways.

There’s lots of different places the characters travel to over time, eating all sorts of food, going to all sorts of restaurants, meeting all sorts of people and having to swallow pride on situations the characters can’t change. It is such a big course that it will be too much for reluctant readers. So Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer is the sort of book you have to commit to, one that does not have cliffhangers every chapter propelling you forward. What it is is an embodiment of growing up, of abusive family dynamics some just can’t seem to escape from, of finding ways to make a living whilst feeling you’re utilizing your life, and all the different ways stories end and others commence, all taking place in the beautiful cultural India. And on that note, it fits the bill like seasoned duck. Not to mention there are some beautiful, unpretentious, unaggressive and spiritual drawings throughout to give you the impression of the innocence of those who want to grow up pursuing compassion.

If you like this, try The Glass Castle by Jennette Walls, Greenwood by Michael Christie, or the 2016 movie Lion starring Dev Patel

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