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The Living - Anjali Joseph

Some book covers call out to you and this one definitely wolf whistled! The image of the brown ‘Kolhapuri chappals’ against the blue background and a mysterious shadow - Oh how intriguing! I remember how at one point in my life, these chappals were definite must haves in my wardrobe. They were perfect for sultry summer days and also added an uber chic element when combined with the right clothes to exude a sense of fusion between the east and west.  I still own a pair but rarely get an opportunity to slip into their comforting hollows thanks to the cold and wet weather that London braves most time of year. But now summer is almost here and I have gently been prodded by this book to revisit this much loved pair of chappals so I can blissfully trod paths laced with cherry blossoms and feel the warmth of the sun upon my skin.

‘The Living’ by Anjali Joseph is a first person narrative of 2 characters – Claire and Arun  living in two entirely different parts of the world, England and India respectively. They don’t seem to have anything in common except their trade – shoemaking. The first half of the book focuses on Claire whilst in the second half, it is Arun’s voice through and through.

Claire is a single mum in her mid-thirties whilst Arun is an older man towards the end of his working life so to speak. The theme of the book deals with the everyday mundanities of their lives and gives insight into the inner dialogue that we as humans often engage in with ourselves. This dialogue maybe entered into whilst making a decision, when reflecting upon past events or planning for the future. 

The narrative effectively explores the challenges faced by both characters via the dynamics of relationships that they invariably form through their profession. Joseph does a brilliant job in reiterating how one’s work serves to provide one with a certain identity and status within society. This holds true for Claire and Arun. It doesn’t matter that one works in a factory and the other in a rustic workshop. What’s important is the fact that it is their means of earning a livelihood and this inevitably becomes their identity.

The pace of Joseph’s writing in this book is languorous and lucid in equal measure – Consider these sentences from the book “It was so quiet that you could hear the humming of minds”, “Why so much care for something a man will put between his feet and the ground?”…

Although I empathised with both Claire and Arun, there were certain points during the book that I felt a bit frustrated because of the lack of a well-defined plot. However, maybe that was the point of the book – to unearth certain existential dilemmas. The title then is very apt, don’t you think? – The Living. 


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