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The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose; book review

On grief and loneliness

"Dear daughter,

Now that you are in your perfect society-sanctioned marriageable age, let's focus on “things” that are important. Things like your skin color, your cooking skills, your hair, the amount of gold your old father can gift you, for your degrees and prizes that you won in your dance and music performances are of little value here. Did I tell you how good the suitor is? Studied in the best college, only son, they belong to a respectable family too. It’s in everyone’s benefit that you marry him and start your new life."

If “The Illuminated'' had a voice it would be something on the line of whispers of a soothing, almost hypnotic voice. The voice that is calm on its surface but shares a tumultuous story of women across generations, social background; all trying their best to make peace with reality. Shashi and Tara, the mother-daughter duo trying to accept their new life on the traumatic event of their husband and father's death. Deaths are always heavily dramatized in pop culture, with lots of tears and breaking down. Here we see an absolute depiction of reality. “Mourning is a luxury”- As Shashi navigates through her widowhood, she has to focus on more practical businesses, like paperwork, dealing with neighbors and family, readjusting into norms. Shashi, who made her life centered around her enigmatic husband perhaps never imagined her life without him. She, who was a Hegelian scholar, tries to understand the number of subtractions she had to do in order to sustain the marriage.

Anindita Ghose’s debut work focuses on the nuances of grief and how individuals cope with it. while Shashi replays her life in flashback, Tara tries to end the chapter she shared with much more senior professor Amitabh Dhar. The fact that the idea of pain and healing isn’t ubiquitous is expressed all over her book. As both of these women are on a quest to live life on their own terms, the fundamentalist organization MSS creeps in, symbolizing how personal losses get intertwined with political agenda. With their propaganda-filled leaflets, MSS eerily reminds me of Gilead of The Handmaid’s tale.

The book follows the phases of the moon and finally coming to its completion on Poornima, just like the women in our story and society coming out of the shackles of distressful misogyny and living life on their own terms.


A superbly nuanced work of fiction, Anindita Ghose’s first novel The Illuminated revolves around two women: Shashi and Tara. After the sudden death of her celebrated husband, Shashi is alarmed to realize that overnight, she has lost her life’s moorings. Meanwhile, their fiercely independent daughter Tara, a Sanskrit scholar, has been drawn into a passionate involvement with an older man, which threatens to consume her in ways she did not imagine possible. Amidst a rising tide of religious fundamentalism in India that is determined to put women in their place, Shashi and Tara attempt to look at themselves, and at each other, in a new light. But is it possible to emerge from an eclipse unscathed?

An astonishing feat of the imagination, The Illuminated is as sophisticated in the quality of its prose as it is provocative in its thematic focus on questions of identity. A remarkable novel of ideas, it marks the arrival of a tremendous new literary talent.


ANINDITA GHOSE is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai. She was previously the Editor of the Saturday magazine Mint Lounge and the Features Director of Vogue India. She completed her MA in Linguistics and Semiotics from the University of Mumbai and has an MA in Arts & Culture Journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York. In 2019, she was a Hawthornden Writing Fellow. The Illuminated is her first novel.

This book has been kindly sent by HarperCollins India and Vivek Tejuja.

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