Sometimes I wonder if I just keep reading novels because I’m searching for exactly the right story that I want to read, and I read a lot of good books, but it’s never quite what I was hoping for. And then I read one like Everything Was Goodbye that is exactly right. It’s beautifully written, with imperfect characters and an achingly tragic love story. I got to cry all through the last few chapters--sometimes with happiness, sometimes with despair, sometimes with both at the same time.
Meena is the youngest of six daughters. Her parents immigrated from India to Canada when she was young, her father dying not long after so she has no memory of him. Everything Was Goodbye follows her from the time she is a teenager as she struggles with the conflict between what is expected of her by her family and the larger Indian immigrant community, to the time she is an independent adult, still struggling but having grown. She’s a character that truly matures over the course of the novel, sympathetic but imperfect.
I am fascinated by Indian culture, and stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, Anuradha Roy, and now Gurjinder Basran give me a peek inside a world that is just so beautiful, with customs and intricacies that I find mesmerizing. Everything Was Goodbye captures the uniqueness of the Indian culture blending into (and in some cases being unable to blend into) a western culture, and also what seem like universal emotions and desires. This story is the best kind of love story, with conflict and tragedy and romance.
I’m not saying the entire book is perfect. The language and descriptions are gorgeous, but sometimes I wonder if Basran overdoes it a bit. “The first snowfall held the city in its breath, casting a tinsel chill across the sky, a silvery glaze on windows, and a rosy glow on children’s cheeks.” It’s a fantastic description, colorful and rich, but also almost distracting. But then on the next page she writes, “He’d smiled, that smile that always made me feel two steps behind,” and I’m distracted again, but this time by how exquisite that description is, capturing something so simply yet stunningly. She describes a person as “illiterate in two languages,” another as “a shadow made real” and “more than a memory and less than a dream.” The descriptions of love are never trite, just emotionally true: “It seemed that the longer I knew him, the less I knew of him, yet the closer I felt to him.” I read these descriptions and the truth of them quite literally took my breath away.
It’s so hard not to say more, but to say more might ruin the story which is so beautiful and unpredictable and complex.