Mira Jacob’s “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing”

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I’ve noticed I often go into books knowing little to nothing about it, so I read them with little to no expectations. So when the book I’m reading turns out to be a well-written and touching piece of work, I’m pleasantly surprised. Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing happens to be one of those books.

I’ve also realised that I’ve been reading a lot of books featuring Indians lately. I’m not complaining; all their stories feel so familiar and yet they’re also fascinating and eye-opening at the same time. I got Balli Kaur Jaswal vibes from just reading the first page. If you don’t know who she is, she’s a Singaporean-Indian author who cooks up wonderful stories that revolve around relationships (particularly those between families, usually spanning at least three generations), politics, culture and nationalism, and much more. Her books have definitely changed me in more ways than one and I highly recommend that you check her out. I’ve written reviews for her books, Sugarbread and Inheritance.

Back to the topic of Mira Jacob’s book. The blurb from Goodreads reads:

When brain surgeon Thomas Eapen decides to cut short a visit to his mother’s home in India in 1979, he sets into motion a series of events that will forever haunt him and his wife, Kamala; their intellectually precocious son, Akhil; and their watchful daughter, Amina. Now, twenty years later, in the heat of a New Mexican summer, Thomas has begun having bizarre conversations with his dead relatives and it’s up to Amina—a photographer in the midst of her own career crisis—to figure out what is really going on. But getting to the truth is far harder than it seems. From Thomas’s unwillingness to talk, to Kamala’s Born Again convictions, to run-ins with a hospital staff that seems to know much more than they let on, Amina finds herself at the center of a mystery so thick with disasters that to make any headway at all, she has to unravel the family’s painful past.”

It took me a while to get around the plot as it is written in a non-linear structure. Props Jacobs for writing it seamlessly so that it doesn’t feel like I’m getting whiplash every time we go through a time skip or a flashback. It’s also relatively fast paced; a lot of things come up at once and it becomes slightly confusing at times. However, the many subplots that are weaved throughout the story are not only brilliantly written, but they all fit perfectly in relation to the larger story. Again, points to Jacob for nailing it.

I love that this is such a character-driven book. The strong characterisation and the portrayals of their struggles to connect with their past, culture, each other, and even themselves are what makes the book memorable to me. This book is also a prime example of the age-old writing advice ‘show, don’t tell’. We learn so much about the characters through their actions, dialogue, and quirks. There are light-hearted moments that made me chuckle once in a while, but it’s mostly poignant, or even downright heartbreaking, as it does deal with some particularly serious and personal topics. There is romance incorporated into the story, but it’s weaved delicately throughout so that it doesn’t overpower the plot.

I don’t have a lot of gripes with this one, but the ending did fall rather flat, in my opinion. It’s an open one, which I usually don’t mind, but I wasn’t satisfied with it because at that point, I still had some questions burning in my mind but none of them were adequately answered. So that was a bit disappointing.

Overall, I enjoyed reading A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. It’s one of those books in which every word, every moment, is meant to be cherished. Blink or you’ll miss it, that sort of thing. It’s the kind of book where you’re so wrapped up in the narrative, you become so attached to all these amazing characters, that you don’t realise that you’ve flown through all 500 (or in my case, because it’s an eBook, 690) pages of it and it leaves you wanting more by the time you reach the final page. It’s eloquently written with characters who are wonderfully flawed in their own rights. I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? And if not, would you be interested? Let me know what you think and feel free to share any recommendations below.

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