Wednesday, June 13, 2007

what separates me from you

Thanks to A auntie, I discovered something fantastic about being unemployed and without urgent demands. Two nights ago, after we had dinner with her, I was getting out of her car, and she asked me, in that critical, practical, emotionless voice of hers, "What are you reading these days?" When I admitted I was currently without reading material (I was wise enough not to try to make the excuse of catching up on blog-perusing), she took a book from the armrest and handed it to me.

"Have you read it?" I asked her. She nodded. "Did you like it?" I prodded, because she offered up nothing.

She was still resistant. "It's set completely in India," was her only response. She eyed me for a moment, to see if I still wanted it. I took it, and started reading the cover. I was a bit concerned. Something about it reminded me of the plot summary of Khalid Hosseini's new novel, and he, frankly, annoys me.

This is how A auntie is, though. She doesn't discount your opinion, and she doesn't assert hers. She wanted me to draw my own conclusions, to enter the story without bias. And last night, thanks to this book, I suddenly discovered the great thing about being stuck in EBF. I covered 50 pages of it in the morning, and then last night, I nearly pulled an all-nighter finishing it.

The book was The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I'm surprised there hasn't been that much buzz about the book amongst the usual suspects. I still haven't been able to make a significant dent into Inheritance of Loss, and while I'll admit that the first few chapters of Umrigar's book were not immediately engaging, it quickly built to an interesting place. And, strangely enough, strangely because I have never lived in India, the book felt quite authentic to me.

The story revolves around a middle/upper-class woman and her servant. This, of course, could have set the stage for overwrought drama. And mind you, there are some plot twists and turns that may be a bit indulgent. But yet, there is something so accurate about the way this whole idea is captured, this whole idea of someone coming to your house, working beside you every day, how they are an important part of your daily existence, how they are even sometimes considered to be like part of your family, but how there is always a line that divides you that will never be crossed. There is something so accurate about how these boundaries exist and appear to be blurred but are never really crossed that any shortcomings in the novel seem forgivable.

I guess I am big on the idea of these barriers lately. Whether it has to do with not relating, or unspoken rules regarding class, or chasms based on history, or fear, it just feels like there are so many lines drawn between everyone. And I wish I was better at being the one to try to bridge the divide. I wish I was better at being the one that reached out and forgave. It disturbs me that I wish that, because I used to be that person. But when I was that person, I just felt, over and over again, like I was being a pushover. I was annoyed with myself, that I'd spend time complaining about people when it was clear I had given them more chances than they deserved. I no longer found it romantic to be the doormat, to be the selfless, forgiving one. I feel so much stronger now that I do not let people run me over. But I question whether I actually am stronger- because letting the past go and finding ruins to salvage require a lot of strength, perhaps more than I ultimately possess.

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