Title/Author: The Atlas of Blues and REds by Devi S Laskar
Publisher: Counterpoint LLC
In a nutshell (Publisher):
When a woman—known only as Mother—moves her family from 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, Mother is met with the same questions: Where are you from? No, where are you really from? The American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants, she finds that her answer—Here—is never enough.
Mother’s simmering anger breaks through one morning, when, during a violent and unfounded police raid on her home, she finally refuses to be complacent. As she lies bleeding from a gunshot wound, her thoughts race from childhood games with her sister and visits to cousins in India, to her time in the newsroom before having her three daughters, to the early days of her relationship with a husband who now spends more time flying business class than at home.
The Atlas of Reds and Blues grapples with the complexities of the second-generation American experience, what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace, and a sister, a wife, and a mother to daughters in today’s America. Drawing inspiration from the author’s own terrifying experience of a raid on her home, Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel explores, in exquisite, lyrical prose, an alternate reality that might have been.
My verdict: Lived up to its hype!
In a Georgia driveway in 2010, Mother lay bleeding from a gunshot wound inflicted by an officer of the law, while his colleagues and her neighbors watched and made no attempt to lend her a hand. She moved in and out of consciousness as she reflected her life told in the various vignettes in the novel. We get a few different angles of Mother’s story: her life as a mother and wife, as a daughter, as a schoolgirl, and an ex journalist.
It took me awhile before I got invested in the book because of the writing style. But once I got the hang of it, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. It is short but it hit me so hard in the head and heart it hurts. It is a poetic and searing read about living as a brown person in a racist and xenophobic America. Many parts had me go:
Are you serious?
You’ve gotta be kidding me.
Omg this is ridiculous (Please refer to the parts I highlighted* at the bottom of this review, if you’re interested 🙂 )
The MC in the story handled most of her daily chores and challenges alone while her ‘hero’ globe-trotting husband was mostly away on his business trips. And yes, she called him her hero but man, did he infuriate me! He seemed so oblivious to the daily abuses she faced especially from her neighbors and the police.
She was often stopped at traffic for the color of her skin, got apprehended for the color of her skin, was questioned at a grocery store for the color of her skin (but disguised as concern), so much so that she was advised by a shopkeeper to stick an American flag on her car to let ‘others’ know that she’s American. And her daughters had to put up with the same sort of bullying (physical and mental) at school for the color of their skin.
And what did her ‘hero’ do? NADA! ‘We have to be nice,’ he said, when Mother wanted to do something about the neighbors who don’t seem to be treating them like ‘other’ neighbors in their subdivision. WHAT?!! Your family needs you, you *****! Yet, he turned a blind (blue) eye.
And you know what was most disheartening? That Mother and Middle Daughter decided not to tell her ‘man of the hour’ of the abuse that they face because then ‘he’ll be sad’. Gosh. Ask him to GROW SOME!
Some of the parts I *highlighted were:
“When are y’all heading back? Y’all best be getting back to where you came from, you hear? No need to overstay your welcome.” (This is so common even for our race back in my home country, Malaysia)
“I think it’s funny you call your dress a sorry. I bet your mommas are sorry having to wear that contraption in public.”
When she was confronted by the police: The female agent in charge points her finger. “We are the state police. We can do whatever we want.”
When Middle Daughter did not get invited to her friends home because ‘her mom won’t let her play with Black people outside of school’
When Middle Daughter was called “names that allude to the darker side of the color spectrum” and ‘a coconut’, white on the inside, and ridiculed “for even wanting to attend this fancy Southern school.”
And when the protagonist asked her classmate why she thought she wouldn’t be asked out, “Because,” Mary-Margaret Anne says, suddenly touching her skin, creating a crater of shock, “this doesn’t rub off”
or when she was being told to befriend a black boy in her Catholic school just because it ‘makes sense’.
One would think this isn’t possible in this modern America, and it’s totally made-up. But I know this is real. I’ve gotten comments like these before:
Wow! You can speak English? or Wow! Your English is good for someone who isn’t from here! (From someone from ‘here’ who spells you are as ‘your’)
Wow! You can read that? (From an ex colleague of mine who saw me reading a book (a tome) during break time.
Oh! Your alphabet is the same too, as in A to Z? (Are there any other forms of A to Z in English that I’m not aware of? Enlighten me please)
My response? Yes, I can spell and write too!
And that’s just icing on the cake.
This fiction isn’t far from the truth. Also it’s based on the author’s real life story.
This book has gotten many glowing reviews but some not very favorable ones too and I can understand why. If you’re looking for a linear story line and/or some character development, you won’t get it here. If you’re easily turned off by characters with no names, then this isn’t for you too. If you have trouble following timelines that hop back and forth irregularly, then skip this. (I usually have problems with this kind of back and forth, but somehow I was able to follow the flow of this book)
But if you want a book that speaks truthfully; that opens your eyes and mind to lives of people we don’t often read about; a book that challenges your perspectives; that makes you uncomfortable because of the truth it holds, then give this one a gander. It will change you. Change within ourselves is a first step to a better and more understanding world.
Thank you Ms. Laskar for writing this!
Have you read this? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts! Or have you read something similar to this?