Paperback, 224 pages.
Read on January 19, 2015
This book was recommended to me and I was able finish reading it in one sitting as I was on a flight to Cuba. Admittedly this was the first time that I had even heard of the author, Jerry Pinto, who has published numerous books. This particular novel is Pinto’s first and, based on some quick research, is a story about his own family and the experiences that they went through in terms of his mother’s mental illness. Pinto really embodies what it can be like living with someone who is severely mentally ill.
The setting of the novel takes place in India and revolves around a family of four. Imelda, or as she is more often called, Em, is the mother and is unfortunately prone to bouts of bi-polar and schizophrenic like behavior and is frequently hospitalized for suicide attempts. The story details how Em met Austine, or The Big Hoom, as she often calls him and how the courtship shortly changed when Em started to exhibit some strange behaviors. As Em struggles through her madness, her son puts together their family’s story. Em’s children are sadly exposed to situations that no one should ever have to deal with. They are constantly worrying about her mental state, if she is manic or depressive and if they need to worry about her attempting to take her own life. In one passage, Pinto perfectly sums up what is is like to have someone you love be effected so severely by mental illness:
“Madness is enough. It is complete, sufficient unto itself. You can only stand outside it, as a woman might stand outside a prison in which her lover is locked up. From time to time, a well-loved face will peer out and love floods back. A scrap of cloth flutters and it becomes a sign and a code and a message and all that you want it to be. Then it vanishes, and you are outside the dark tower again.”
Mental illness is heartbreaking, especially for the loved ones as it turns everyone’s world upside down. The support isn’t the same either, it’s not like a family member has cancer and everyone can understand the situation and can sympathize with it, so often loved ones will feel alienated and alone as mental illness is so unique and still not fully understood. While Em’s situation scars her family, it also ultimately brings them together as well. The ending of the story brings some solace for Em, for her loved ones, and is heart warming for the reader.
My one complaint with this novel was the constant use and ever changing nicknames of the characters. I imagine that because this book is somewhat autobiographical the nicknames come from Pinto’s own experiences, but in terms of this novel, it was a bit jarring and unnecessary. If you removed the nicknames, the story would have still been just as effective.
Overall an eye-opening novel into the life and times of a family dealing with a loved ones mental illness, a story, that is not told often enough.