Review by: Mridula Koshy
The Hour Past Midnight defies classification in any category. I think it can be read by a very young reader – say 13 – but it is likely sold in bookstores in India as a work for adults. This could be because of its heft (478 pages), and its depiction of the complex world of Muslim women in a small town in Tamil Nadu.
Though the story moves through multiple perspectives, the center of the book around which these perspectives shift is the voice of Rabia, a young girl, who significantly has not yet had her first menstrual period. Rabia is a little in love with Ahmad, who reciprocates a little, but mostly is haughty and distant. Rabia, who is capable of great love and great joy, spends it all on her best friend Madina. The two girls are free at the beginning of the novel to run around their small town which Salma depicts in minute detail, celebrating their freedom which Salma also depicts in minute detail. Sometimes, Rabia is busy with the game of collecting more fallen fruit from under the almond tree than anyone else, at other times she is headed to the mosque to talk to Modinaar Bawa, or claiming her child’s right to stay outside the home of a neighbor who has died and to whose frightening funeral her mother has dragged her. Trips to the library to borrow books for her cousin and to the cinema where she sees a movie she shouldn’t, and where the men turn in their seats to look at her, plus a failed trip up the mountain behind her school which proves too arduous to climb are all moments that together gather weight and hang suspended before we are hurtled past that final moment of Rabia’s childhood which will occur somewhere outside the book and after which she will be delivered to the womanhood of an early marriage and confinement indoors. We know much about Rabia’s soon-to-be adult life as a woman through the stories of the many women in the novel.
There are a great number of these women, and they all carom off each other as they go about the business of living their lives almost entirely indoors; in kitchens, bedrooms, at funerals and marriages, the women forge friendships and alliances, which they forge only to break. Throughout they share their meaningful but burdensome housework, which is again detailed as a writer would only detail that which is meaningful. The reader gathers to herself this painful pleasure of lives lived with great attention and care but which are also extremely restricted.
Salma is a great writer and a great political thinker. The book is an argument against the locking up of women. It is also an argument against pity. The young girl Rabia and the women in the book are all capable of living their lives imaginatively, of managing their own joys and sorrows, their own small revolts and the large revolt they may make to emerge from their secluded lives.
Translator: Lakshmi Holmström
Publisher: Zubaan, 2016.
Title: Irandam Jamangalin Kathai
Publisher: Sanchar Publishing House
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About the Author:
Salma is an acclaimed and controversial writer, an activist who argues for feminist principles and opposition to caste-based hierarchy. She became a writer in the face of grave opposition, including violence against her; she considers writing a political act, She is also a successful politician and member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party. Salma received the fourth edition of the Mahakavi Kanhaiyalal Sethia Award at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2019.
About the Translator:
Lakshmi Holmström was an Indian-British writer, literary critic, and translator of Tamil fiction into English. Holmström won numerous literary awards. In her lifetime she was considered one of the best translators Indian literature was privileged to have.
Reviewer: Mridula Koshy
Mridula Koshy is a library movement activist in India; she is part of the The Community Library Project and the Free Libraries Network, both of which work to increase access to books and reading for all those who have been excluded from reading. She is also a writer. Her most recent novel, Bicycle Dreaming (Speaking Tiger, 2016) is an exploration of family life in a waste worker community in New Delhi. Her novel is set in Kerala and the US; it was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award. Her short story collection, won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award.
- Bicycle Dreaming (Speaking Tiger, 2016)
- Not Only the Things That Have Happened (Harper Collins India 2013)
- If It Is Sweet (Tranquebar Press and Brass Monkey Australia 2009)
Curator of the second #IntlYALitMonth at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative:
Linda Hoiseth is the high school librarian at the American School of Dubai and has previously worked at schools in the US, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, Peru, Qatar, and India (where she was able to collaborate with and learn from Mridula Koshy). She has a B.S. in English and Secondary Education, an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction, and a graduate certificate in School Library Media. Linda is an IB workshop leader and a member of the ECIS Libraries Special Interest Group. She’s a fierce advocate for all students to have access to all the books. Follow her on Twitter.