Kintsugi, named after the ancient Japanese art of mending broken objects with gold, is a novel about young women and men puzzling over the lines between love and desire, attachment and freedom. It is the story of Meena, rebellious and unexamined, and Yuri, as complex as Meena is naïve; of Hajime, outsider to two cultures, and Prakash, unable to see beyond his limited horizons. It is also the story of Haruko who has dedicated herself to her art, and of Leela who is determined to break gender roles and learn the traditional craft of her community despite all sorts of obstacles. Moving between Jaipur and Japan, Kintsugi follows the lives of these characters as they intersect and diverge, collide and break and join again in unexpected ways. The result is a novel of astonishing virtuosity – as profound as it is playful, as emotionally moving as it is gripping.
Every once in a while, I come across a book that doesn’t follow the traditional notions of plot. Whether I’m reading such a book just for pleasure or for the purpose of doing a review, I face the issue of “What do I make of this?” This isn’t to say that the said book is incomprehensible or useless. Far from it. It usually shows an attempt by the author to depart from the trodden path, so to say, and concoct anew. Kintsugi is in this mould.
The term Kintsugi, as the blurb explains, refers to the art of mending broken objects with gold. The characters in this book have their struggles against obstacles both external and internal. These struggles give rise to challenges where the characters are forced to be aware of the world and of viewpoints beyond their own.
The book is divided into six chapters, named after the major characters mentioned in the blurb. While four chapters use an omniscient narrator, two are told from a first-person narrator perspective, with the narrator being the same character in both chapters. I wondered why this was the case. But apart from a guess that maybe the author identified most with this character, I couldn’t find any reason for the same. Four of the characters have well-defined, clear arcs, with narratives that provide a peek inside their minds. The other two, not so much. Hajime stayed a mystery of sorts to me till the final sentence, aloof and distant. Yuri is a secondary character even in the chapter with her own name, looked at through the eyes of another character.
Two of the most enjoyable things here are the descriptions and the metaphors. In the opening chapter, the craft of jewellery-making is detailed for pages on end, almost immersing you in the technicalities of the process. And throughout the book, we have some exquisite metaphors.
Case in point:
“To convert humble glass and meagre gold foil into such fragile beauty requires the highest form of swarankari. It goes beyond the art of ornament making – it is the art of life itself. To fuse the pure with the frail without melting one or breaking the other.”
Leela is my favourite character from the book. She’s bright, spunky, feisty and a keen observer. As a teenaged girl, she is in a supporting role in the opening chapter but by the time she gets her own chapter, she’s grown into a fierce young lady. Haruko has a great beginning as the titular character of the first chapter. But by the time we see her in the final chapter, she’s changed. Her single-minded devotion to the craft is intact, but other than that, she’s transformed into something different. That the transformation is unlike that of a butterfly is the disappointing part.
The chapters with Meena are the most tender. The ones with Prakash show how ingrained patriarchal mindsets can hamper even the brightest amongst us. But it’s the chapters with Leela that burn brightest with the fire against patriarchy.
I didn’t really enjoy the many romantic couplings in the book, apart from a couple. On the one hand, they looked incomplete. And on the other, as we see in the final chapter, they can be too contrived to look natural.
The gorgeous descriptions and sparkling metaphors are offset by the rambling plot. The characters flit in and out of the story, but a binding cohesion is lacking. As I mentioned above, I was left wondering at the end, “What do I make of this?” The author’s previous work that I read, Bhaunri, (review here) is a study in contrast. And while Bhaunri and Kintsugi are completely different books, this one didn’t satiate me the same way the previous one managed to.
It’s odd, but the first few paragraphs of the final chapter reminded me of Shubhangi Swarup’s Latitude of Longing, with its description of an island beach in Indonesia. The chapter perplexed me more than resolve any thematic questions I had till then. And like the opening chapter, it too ended abruptly.
Through the characters’ journeys over a period of 5-6 years, the book explores their fight for their desires and goals. That is the central theme of Kintsugi, how people go to great lengths for these things, and also how brittle our hearts and our relationships are. It’s not easy to repair them once they’re broken, but rather than giving in, rolling on is the way forward.
Verdict: Anukrti Upadhyay’s Kintsugi suffers due to an uneven plot but shines with its excellent descriptions and metaphors.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Fiction.
Reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program. Click here to know all about it.
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