Where are you really from?’ That question, with its inherent prejudice and bias, lies at the heart of Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel, The Atlas Of Blues And Reds . It is not the American Dream but the American Nightmare of racism that is centrestage here.
At the start of the story, the unnamed narrator, simply referred to as the ‘Mother,’ lies dying in the driveway of her home. There are policemen surrounding her, traipsing through her house, all of them indifferent to her grievous injury. As she lies there, the Mother’s past life flashes before her eyes in a series of incidents.
How much humiliation can a person take before they crack up? Is it judicious to look away from racism in both its overt and covert forms? Does ‘fitting in’ mean suppressing one’s anger and pain, till one day, everything comes to a boil? The story grapples with all these questions and the answers are not pretty.
The Mother is born in America to Bengali immigrants. She marries a white man, has three children, and lives in a predominantly white Georgia suburb. The Mother and her daughters encounter racism in so many ways: the casual variety experienced at the dry cleaner’s or on the road; the insulting type practised by the neighbours; the scary form when it comes from a white cop. As the incidents pile up, they inexorably come to a head after 9/11, and reach a crescendo when Trump gets elected.
Looking away, putting their head down, and keeping a stiff upper lip seem to be their coping mechanism. The husband remains conveniently insulated from what his family is facing, not only because he is white but also because the Mother and children choose not to tell him any of it.
The Atlas Of Blues And Reds may not be an easy read but it makes an impact with its searing look at the underbelly of the American Dream.
It also has a timely resonance in every country where minorities are made to feel they don’t belong in a place they sadly and ironically consider home.
The writer is a manuscript editor and novelist based in Bengaluru.
The Atlas of Reds and Blues; Devi S. Laskar, Hachette India, ₹550