Blurb (as on Goodreads):
An arresting debut novel which bears witness to American racism and abuse of power, tracing one woman’s shift from acquiescence to resistance.
When an unnamed narrator moves her family from the city of Atlanta to its wealthy suburbs, she discovers that neither the times nor the people have changed since her childhood in a small southern town. Despite the intervening decades, the woman, known only as The Mother, is met with the same questions: Where are you from? No, where are you really from? The American-born daughter of Bengali immigrant parents, her truthful answer, here, is never enough. She finds herself navigating a climate of lingering racism with three daughters in tow and a husband who spends more time in business class than at home.
The Mother’s simmering anger breaks through one morning, when, during a baseless and prejudice-driven police raid on her house, she finally refuses to be calm, complacent, polite—and is ultimately shot. As she lies bleeding on her driveway, The Mother struggles to make sense of her past and decipher her present—how did she end up here?
Devi S. Laskar has written a brilliant debut novel that grapples with the complexities of the second-generation American experience, what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace, a sister, a wife, a mother to daughters in today’s America. Drawing inspiration from the author’s own terrifying experience of a raid on her home, The Atlas of Reds and Blues explores, in exquisite, lyrical prose, an alternate reality that might have been.
“She closes her eyes and a kaleidoscope appears, the blue of the sky giving way to the red pulse of pain near her stomach.”
An unnamed second-generation immigrant born to Bengali parents, also called The Mother is lying bleeding (from a gunshot wound during an impromptu raid) in her driveway. While the most question should be about the reason for such an occurrence, there is a bigger story that needs to be told first.
As our unnamed protagonist travels back to her childhood days, we see her memories comprising of a few questions that have been asked to her again and again: Where is she from? Why doesn’t she go back to her own country? Why is her English so fluent?
There is also a lot of abuse, both verbal and physical. Most of these are subtle ways of hinting that people don’t actually believe that she was born in America and that she shouldn’t overstay. She grows up in a hostile environment and years later she finds herself married to a white man (her Hero ‘or’ Man of The Hour). She brings in to this world three beautiful babies, whose fate is just like her mother- living traumatized in a world who sees them as an outsider.
“Time was fluid in the long list of past grievances.”
There are lots of layers to this story. Each event is evocative, and the sheer brutality of mankind is tested again and again. There are a lot of tiny, but very impactful details that build up the story leading to the final conclusion. Well, if there’s such a thing.
‘The Atlas of Reds and Blues’ begins where it ends and I keep wondering if the cycle of racism and abuse is the same. The story brought out a lot of emotions from within and every time this family suffered, it broke my heart a little. Every time people made vulgar assumptions about ‘The Mother’, it hit a nerve.
The author’s brilliant use of the evolution of Barbie dolls gives an added dimension to the story as it represents the notions for beauty and body color being followed by people for years.
‘The Atlas of Reds and Blues’ brings forth the troubles a human being has to go through because they are a person of color and the world isn’t as tolerant as it looks. The writing is ruthless and superbly defended. It comes from a place of pain and suffering, and that’s how the truth looks- terrifying and heartbreaking.
*Thank you Hachette India for the copy. All opinions are my own*