Two women. Strong yet fragile. Two women who couldn’t be more different from each other. Two women in search of their identity. Interweaved with two cities, Calcutta and New York. Calcutta felt claustrophobic for one. New York represented freedom for both.
Under the canopy of the day, you could see, from this distance, how shattered the world was that we lived in and how beautiful its dust.
Anita, born in privilege and at times unlikable. A misfit who cannot wait to break free. We follow her story across decades from her home in Calcutta shared with cousins to the grimy bars in New York. Flawed, rebellious, and unapologetic. Refusing to settle for less and always making her voice heard. Who finally finds her calling as an author and insists on micro-managing the launch.
In contrast, her childhood friend Anjali struggles with motherhood, a chauvinist and gaslighting husband, and tries to make peace with her life in a suburb in Ohio. Whose simple pleasures of window shopping and eating out feel rebellious. Who finds the need to defend decisions although she might not agree with them. A character we don’t know much about but one that is extremely relatable.
Much like Anita and Anjali, the cities of Calcutta and New York could be characters of their own. Breaking stereotypes of heat and dust, Calcutta represents wealth, family, and privileged life. In contrast, Manhattan and the fast life of New York are replaced with grimy dive bars and the suburbs.
Not Quite a Disaster After All by Buku Sarkar is a series of six vignettes across decades and two continents. A book about how our expectations from life change over the years. Between self-destruction and survival.
In all its starkness, the cover well represents the book. Scruffed. No filters. Laying it all bare. But with the promise that lies ahead across. Much like the author’s photography, her writing is sharp-edged. Feminine and unapologetic.
It is always important to choose. To know life didn’t happen to you, but was a consequence of everything you did.
Similar to a short story collection, some of the vignettes stay with you and some leave you wanting more. Sometimes coming a full circle. Sometimes not. There is no beginning, no end, just a slice of life, a no holds barred intimate look. Warts and all.
The charm of the book is the evocative prose. Right from the first paragraph that draws you in. The anxieties. The rebellions. The wins – big and small. By no means a light read, it is a book that makes you uncomfortable. A book that makes you think. It is an impressive debut and I am looking forward to reading more by the author. If you enjoy layered characters and narrative, do pick up the book.
About the author
Buku Sarkar is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in various magazines and journals including NYRB, n+1, Raleigh Review, Threepenny Review, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Mint Lounge. Her photographs have been exhibited at ICP in New York, Art Basel, Miami, and venues across the US and Europe and she has been featured in Fleur and Arbor magazine and The Photographers’ Gallery, London. She received the Andrew Nelson Lytle Award for the best short story in 2021. Her photobook Photowali Didi was published in 2022. Buku lives in Kolkata and New York.
I received the book from the publisher HarperCollins India in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.