Book Reviews

Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal is a family saga that explores multiple dimensions of a stereotypical society and how its implications can change the equations of relationships in a family. This family that is based in Singapore but carries the roots of a patriarch in its functioning is soon met by the daughter who is fighting a mental illness but doesn’t know it until she is forced to face something unfathomable that shakes her father’s respect immensely. Backing up this daughter is a son who is sent to the States to pursue studies and come back “man enough”. This is a man who is fighting for his sexual identity in a society and time where being gay was considered the sin of the highest order. Will his acceptance and coming out to his father resolve the father-son issues that have been pent up all these years? There are also two fathers- one who is yet to face his demons and the other who is stringent in his ways of raising his three daughters.

The story has been well framed to justify the title of the book- a man who never inherited the manhood that his patriarch father wanted to, but a daughter inherits the mental illness which her father is himself unaware of. The book is well-paced and some sections have been written with a lot of care and attention. As it follows a POV based narration, the perspective of each character, and their viewing towards the problems faced by the family is what makes the book captivating.

A societal theme- which makes the core of the book- peppered with wit is a trademark style of the author that her other works bear. But here, it was different. Profoundly she puts forth topics of sexuality and its acceptance, the taboo that mental health is and which still today a lot of families have problems accepting, immigrant life which comes with the pressure of maintaining the roots and customs, and upon all the wheel of the patriarchal society that needs to break. The backdrop of an evolving country used to amplify these topics was befitting.

Balli Kaur Jaswal’s writing is lucid and it is always difficult to pause the flow of reading it. It feels particularly refreshing in Inheritance because as a reader of all her works, to me it felt like discovering a new facet of her writing flair.

Some sections are written with so much honesty and sensitivity I couldn’t help admire the way they were put across. I particularly liked this scene where a father is told seconds back about his younger daughter’s problems with studies and that she probably needs consultation and that it could be because of low mental health. To which the father says that in their time there wasn’t any need to go finding for the roots of the problem and that nowadays everyone wants to blame an underlying issue. To which his daughter replies, gently but firmly- But it’s not your time anymore. There was a strength to this scene that thrashed all notions of parenting that existed years back. It also carried a message that how necessary it is to evolve ourselves with the changing times.

A storyteller, who everyone must read- Balli Kaur Jaswal.

Thank you to the publisher Harper Collins for the review copy.

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