**spoiler alert** I will discuss the novel’s conclusion near the end of this post!
The opening sentences of this novel perfectly capture the kind of reading experience you will have with Everything Was Goodbye:
The smell of chai – fennel, cloves and cinnamon – tucked me into my blanket like a seed into a cardamom pod. I steeped myself into waking, listening to the sounds of Sunday morning. (2)
Basran poetically spins her tail with beautiful images that intimately expose the spice and vibrant emotion of Indian culture. Simultaneously, it is an ordinary tale of a girl, Meena, on a journey of self-discovery that severely clashes with the journey prepared for her by her culture. The book trailer found on Basran’s website offers a good sense of what this book is about. I had not idea books had trailers (where have I been?) nonetheless, here it is.
I loved Meena. Basran makes it easy to sympathise with her protagonist. She is a seventeen year old who is angry, isolated, introverted and who must participate in the traditions of Indian family life. Anyone who is from immigrant parents can relate to this in varying degrees. It can be like living a dual life: the Canadian you and the other you. The you that is Canadian at school and with friends and the you that speaks another language, eats different food and tries desperately not to anger parents and elders with the Canadian you because it is a danger to cultural preservation.
Meena has dreams of writing that she must squirrel away because it is not the kind of career that would make her a desirable match for fine Indian young men. She has feelings of love for a Canadian boy, Liam, that she must bury because it would never be allowed. This novel pulls at your heartstrings with eloquence. There is nothing trite about Basran’s treatment of the everlasting effects of young love. Although I do wish there would have been more severe judgment on the drowning of a girl’s voice and goals in present-day Canada.
I found it very difficult to relate to Meena’s mother, aunts and older sisters because of their compliance with cultural expectations. I wrote about the betrayal that women experience throughout this novel at the hands of other women recently. Upon finishing the novel, I realize that though I still feel this way, these characters really do the best they can in the context of their lives. The women in this novel do (for the most part) create a network of support in time of (severe) need. Mostly, however, they are of the belief that it is a woman’s role to make do, to accept, to conform in order for family life to persevere.
The men in this novel are easy to dislike. Fathers who spoil sons and ignore daughters. A father-in-law who understands the plight of his son’s wife, yet remains silent in his wife’s verbal berrating of her. Young men who are bribed into marriage with hefty sums because it is time to settle down, all the while, they love another, yet they do not challenge parental expectations because they’ll lose all that money. Men who physically and emotionally abuse their wives. It is a patriarchal culture – no doubt about it. Women survive and men thrive and no one does a thing about it. I was appalled by the behaviour of most of the male characters in this novel, and had to keep reminding myself that this is a culture that is unknown to me…stop judging with Western beliefs.
Although Everything Was Goodbye is about a Punjabi community in British Columbia, many of its themes and characters are universal. There are so many questions raised about relationships and what we owe one another. Basran does not attempt to address these issues, but does show the depth of pain we can create in each other – and, the consequences of that pain.
What was your reaction to this novel and its characters? Have you read other novels that have given you insight into another culture?
**spoiler alert** I will discuss the novel’s conclusion here:
I cannot believe the way this novel ends. I was flabbergasted, speechless, left morose and just as lost as Meena. Finally, finally, the life she wanted and deserved was within her grasp. She was living with the man she truly loved, they had a beautiful baby girl and she was almost divorced from Sunny Gill her arrogant (product of his environment) jerk of a husband. And then, it is all taken away!?! I read somewhere that this novel was a modern day Romeo and Juliet – I see that and I am just so mad that it had to end the way it did.
I felt like Basran really didn’t give Meena any firm resolution. She was just as aimless, lifeless as she was before – moreso with Liam’s loss. Only Leena, their daughter, keeps her going. But, once again, it is a role that keeps her alive. She was once daughter, then wife and now mother. Is it only in her role that Meena values herself? I don’t understand it. I still grapple with Basran’s choice…which is why I think this is such a great novel. The author challenges us at every level. It is not easy to let go of these characters and the sadness in which one leaves them.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Everything Was Goodbye. Basran writes clearly, passionately and provides an explosive conclusion. If you enjoy novels that offer insight into humanity, relationships, and other cultures, you will enjoy Everything Was Goodbye. I highly recommend this novel.
What did you think of the novel’s conclusion? How did you feel when the final tragedy was unravelled? Would you recommend Everything Was Goodbye?