Graphic Novel Books

Etched in memory: Review of Anoushka Khan’s ‘Still Life’

For a story titled Still Life, there is very little stillness in this graphic novel. Perhaps that is the point writer and artist Anoushka Khan wishes to make in her debut book. Here stillness is that rare moment of clarity people find within and outside themselves in the midst of turbulence. Khan brilliantly captures a range of still moments and emotions — from love and nostalgia to loss and loneliness — through her stunning black-and-white illustrations, enhanced by a few lines of narration. The words are a part of the illustrations rather than a separate textual element. In that sense, the book is more a work of art than a piece of literature.

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Still Life is a journey, one that Pinky undertakes to find her missing husband, Pasha. We travel through her memories, thoughts and feelings as she searches for her other half, and a deep sense of longing pervades the novel. The story ebbs through the old mohallas and villages in the foothills of the jagged mountains in Pakistan as Pinky goes about meeting relatives and acquaintances in search of Pasha. En route, she recalls past moments — Pasha’s promise to take her to the mountains one day; a lesson on the tree of life from her biologist mother; on the ruins of Mohenjo-daro from her archaeologist father. All these are prompted by the mundane, which could be an old photograph, a pattern on the bedframe, and so on, forming a stream of experience, memories and emotions. However, the flow of the narrative is broken at times by inconsistencies in the text.

There are no page numbers or chapter headings. Instead, empty pages mark the shift between thought, remembrances and conversation. This breaks the story out of the rigid panelled structured of a traditional graphic novel, giving it an organic fluidity and depth.

Mixing pencil sketches and watercolour, Khan creates a series of images that are precise yet abstract, much like moments etched in our memory.

Still Life; Anoushka Khan, Viking, ₹599

The reviewer is a freelance journalist and copy editor.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 6:00:51 PM |

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