HomeArts & EntertainmentBooksHT reviewer Simar Bhasin picks her favourite reads of 2021

HT reviewer Simar Bhasin picks her favourite reads of 2021

Where the future became an ending; an exposition of a world order that posits itself as a liberal force while sticking to hierarchies

Olivia Sudjic’s Asylum Road, with it’s deeply nuanced depiction of how trauma informs the lives of young witnesses of the Bosnian War through a fictional narrative is my pick for the read of the year. Not only does the book have a global resonance given the times in which we live but as a work of artistic creation, it constantly challenges Western aesthetic expectations of a lived refugee experience through its woman protagonist, Anya. The story is centred on Anya, a PhD scholar and Luke, her other half in a “monogamous cishet relationship”, which is characterised by a shared love of listening to podcasts on murders. In their relationship and its many contours, Sudjic, through Anya’s perspective, shows how the intimate and private always come in conflict with and informs the public and the political.

Simar Bhasin (Courtesy the reviewer)

The interior landscape of Anya’s mind is made available to the reader while the larger socio-political context within which Anya operates as an inheritor of the traumas of a war witnessed in childhood haunts the text. For the Anya looking to escape her memories, the idea of a happily-ever-after used to be a “physical place at the end of a long road. A place where I could unpack, lie down and never have to move again, and the future became an ending.” The Anya that we meet is amused at that thought ever having occurred to her. The bloody legacies of war, the reality of Brexit and the conditions that made it possible, the uneasy nationalisms and the precariousness of an identity constructed through unstable political affiliations as well as questions such as who or what constitutes Europe in the popular imagination remain lingering within the text.

Sudjic’s use of English throughout the narrative is one that betrays the limitations of that language of access in articulating realities which lie beyond its linguistic borders. What Sudjic achieves through both the form and content of her literary work is an exposition of a world order that posits itself as a liberal force revelling in apparently inclusive terms such as ‘globalization’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’ while at the same time sticking to hierarchies that work to create and reinforce many cultural ‘others’ through border controls and amplified nationalisms.

Simar Bhasin is an independent journalist. She lives in New Delhi.

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