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Becoming Assiya: A Tale Of War, Loss And The Pain Of Liberation

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“A strange city with embittered, half sunken bodies and detached souls, the large beds (they’re all the same if you asked her), the strange smell of flowers and scents in the house when their wives and daughters were away, and then the dirt of whoring. The world was a crazy place, with crazy men, and without crazy love.”

What starts out as a person’s search for identity soon transforms into a towering narrative of a nations tragic loss of identity. Becoming Assiya by Simran Keshwani, the 20 year old author’s first novel is draped in fineries of “loss and pain” and is set in the backdrop of wartime Syria.
One is forced to question again and again, at various points in the narrative about the search of a coherent identity, whose only access points are images and memories of a distant past. The greatest and most harrowing wars of our times, the Syrian proxy war, has raised eyeballs and jerked tears alike, in all parts of the world, and is yet to see a halt. What’s left of the city, is mud and mortar while the world sleeps in their warm bedding and ivory mansions.
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Keshwani’s attempt to capture a murdered city which now houses revenge leaves a tale of lust, love, nationalism and what it meant to be human in the time of War.
Far more than making an outcry for liberation, the story points out the aftermath of a liberated nation. Liberation hurts, and none can deny that.
“They say the shout of a liberated nation screeches through the wrongs and triumphs fountains of blood. I would hold a different opinion. When we first reached Germany in the boats, our bodies were shrill starved and cold. The smell of animal feces from a metre over would remind me of my incessant hunger. They chided us for our expensive phones and said we didn’t need help. How little did they know about struggle.”
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Where do we go hereon? The narrative leaves the reader on the edge of his seat, wondering which road to pick between love and hate, between fear and courage and between avenging the self and forgiving for the nation.
During a lot of instances and the constant shifts in memory and the polyphony in the narrative it is the blurred, whimsical lines between the choices that the author portrays with finesse.
Assiya’s story becomes the mouthpiece and missing end to her mother’s struggle and their collective story becomes the memory of a new, independent nation, that is built on the spoils of war.
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For an author that young to play with fire and acid and complexity and nuances of human life is a challenge only few tread on. Simran braves it, swallows the acid, and jerks out a bestseller.
Get your hands on the book if you haven’t already.
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