Fiction, Historical Fiction

#MithilaReviewsBooks – The Architecture of Loss by Zainab Priya Dala

This is the first book I have read about South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. And I will wholly recommend “The Architecture of Loss” by Zainab Priya Dala to readers who wish to read a heartwrenching account of how this freedom struggle affected the physical and emotional lives of the Comrades, their families, their lovers and their children.

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The author, Zainab Priya Dala, narrates the story of a fictional character Sylverani (Sylvie) Pillay, an Indian doctor and a fierce activist in the anti-apartheid movement and her fractured relationship with her only daughter, Afroze (Rosie) Bhana. This story, though fictional, is rooted in fact. (I would strongly recommend reading the Author’s Note at the end of the book, for the full impact of the book to set in. )

The story begins at the end: Afroze has received news that her mother is inching closing to Death’s door. In spite of her bitter and non-existent relationship with her ‘biological’ mother, she travels down to her mother’s home at Brighton. Rosie’s fancy life as an architect at Cape Town in the day is a cover for the antidepressant-popping, drug and alcohol consuming wreck she turns into in the night. Deep down, the incident of her biological mother abandoning her at the tender age of six keeps reverberating in her mind. Her ‘adoptive’ mother, Moomi, has been a pillar of support throughout the dark times, despite Afroze’s biological dad, Ismail (Moomi’s husband and Sylvie’s ex-lover) being as supportive as a broken bench.

Years have passed, and the years have unveiled different facets of the personalities of the people in the story. Sylvie is desperately ill, has a septuagenarian “boyfriend”, Sathie, treats Halaima (her caretaker) and her daughter Bibi as family, more than she ever could treat her own blood and flesh as a daughter. Afroze is stronger, yet weaker. She’s unforgiving, yet willing to give people a second chance.

So does the reconciliation between mother and daughter happen? How does an intensely long period of emotional silence get filled with a immense longing to share previously untold stories about the past?

You’ll have to pick up your copy of “The Architecture of Loss” to find out.

What I liked about this book is the brilliance of the imagery in the words. I could visualise myself sitting with Sylvie, Halaima, Bibi, Sathie and Afroze for breakfast. I felt my ears explode as the parcel bomb went off at the beachfront. I heard the unsaid accusations made by a daughter to her mother. In short, I was totally absorbed into the narrative.

I also liked the way the story was presented. It begins with the end, then takes the reader back to the start of Afroze’s life, but still leaves an important part of the story missing. The reader is then catapulted into the times of the Black Consciousness Movement, where Sylvie was as vociferous as she could never have been with her daughter. The author then ties up the story together, and the reader understands the “how” and “why” of the complexity of a family relationship. And then of course, the crucial question: does the reconciliation the reader has been rooting for actually happen?

Another aspect about the book that I liked is the author’s effort to maintain the authenticity of the dialect of the Cape Malay people, and yet she enables the reader to understand exactly what the characters intend to say. I would earnestly request you the reader, to read these dialogues slowly and with a genuine appreciation for a different culture. Also, the brilliant description of the Kavady festival is a heady immersion into the lives of Tamil people in South Africa.

There are quite a few passages from the book that I copied down into my book diary, because they were just so insanely awesome and perfect in expressing emotions that I have experienced. Full marks for quotability!

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the book, was the shift in POV in some instances. In hindsight, I think the shift was necessary. But while reading the book, it felt a bit disconcerting. But maybe that’s just me.

I give this book a 4/5 star rating and recommend it to readers who wish to start exploring more about South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement and readers who wish to read an emotional story about a maternal bond that never really fades across the ages.


Thank you Speaking Tiger for sending me a review copy of “The Architecture of Loss” by Zainab Priya Dala 🙂


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