Published by Aleph Book Company on April 1, 2012
Genres: Cultural Heritage, Family & Relationships, Fiction
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.
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In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, through the last decades of the twentieth century, lived four love-battered Mendeses: mother, father, son and daughter. Between Em, the mother, driven frequently to hospital after her failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the father, trying to hold things together as best he could, they tried to be a family.
Narrated by Em’s son, Em and the Big Hoom offers far more than his perspective alone. As the son informally interviews members of his family about their lives, he gives the reader a panoramic view of a family affected by mental illness.
The emotions involved are so complex, so complicated. I felt sorry for these characters. Not pity, but more of an eye-opening, empathetic learning experience. Handled sensitively and without judgment, a voice is given to secret, uncomfortable things the children hope for as they age and recognize their parents’ mortality. There is bitterness, fear, and anger; but also plenty of love and humor. When Em is speaking, the narrative feels scattered, because that’s what her mind is like. And you know, sometimes that can come across a little… inauthentic? Gimmicky? But not here. Here it works. Pinto has brilliantly sewn together all of his characters’ experiences.
I wanted to pull an all-nighter when I was reading this. You know when a friend comes over unexpectedly, or maybe calls late at night with something important to say, because something is going on in his or her life that must be shared so your friend can move forward? You end up listening for hours and hours, not watching the clock. Before you know it, the sun has come up. That’s how this book felt. I was compelled to keep reading, to keep listening to the story. I felt like it was confiding in me.
Em and the Big Hoom has just enough dark humor to keep the reader from feeling overwhelmed. It shines as a captivating and moving portrayal of the impact of mental illness on a family.