Jbara (Kahraman, 2009, etc.) tells the story of a female photographer in India searching for fulfillment in this fragmentary novel.
Shamyana’s father abandoned the family when she was young, and her relationship with her mother has always been distant. In high school, she discovers photography when her best friend, Shyam, shows her his new camera. Shyam makes his secret feelings for Shamyana known, and the two marry after graduation. Despite his conservative family, Shyam encourages Shamyana to pursue photography, which she sees as a way to access her confusing inner life. “My dream is to let the people see the world through my lens,” she says, to which he replies, “I have faith that you will succeed one day.” The young photographer eventually finds the marriage too constraining for her ambitions, and Shyam agrees to an amicable split. On a trip to Goa, she meets a hotel owner named Rohan with whom she senses immediate chemistry. A new friend sets her up with corporate shoots and magazine features, and her career burgeons. She gets mixed signals from Rohan, however, and when another man expresses interest in her, she marries him. But is it what she wants? Her nervous breakdown suggests otherwise. Jbara tells Shamyana’s story in a series of microchapters, many only a paragraph long. While some depict scenes or dialogue that advance the plot, others are lyrical snippets of the protagonist’s thoughts; from the chapter “Ignite Fire”: “This route is too confining for me to slither. I feel my senses ignite fire. That is seething in my soul. I was unable to be me. I repositioned myself. I felt my body incite fire. That is raging in my body. I can’t be me. I can’t be them.” Despite these windows of interiority, many characters and events feel stilted or flat, and Shamyana’s story elicits surprisingly little emotional investment from the reader. While the novel’s structure is ambitious and original, it’s not used effectively. Shamyana’s true self should be more accessible, and yet by the end of the novel, she still feels like a stranger.
A flat novel with an interesting structure.