Wow. What a book. Without even commenting on the plot or characters, I can tell you hand on heart, I learnt so much from this book. It takes you on such a detailed and reflective journey of India through some of the key political and religious turmoils that swept over the country during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Whilst this is a novel with fictional characters, it’s so full of historical facts, it’s a history lesson too!
In present times, Skanda is returning to India after the passing of his father; Toby, in Geneva. Toby’s wishes were for his body to be returned to his birthplace even though he hasn’t been back to India in over twenty years. The trip is an emotional and confusing one for Skanda as he reflects on his childhood, his parent’s separation and his memories of the turbulent times in India.
The past chapters go back further than Skanda’s life and reveal how his parents met and fell in love before connecting up with Skanda’s birth and the following years. There was something very alluring about discovering how a love story would blossom between these two characters when you already knew the ending, and of course, I was curious to know how it all went wrong.
The timeline jumps back and forth, and also up and down, meaning you could learn something before you expected to and then you needed to hold that information in your mind for a while, in order to slot it into place when the rest of the story caught up. I found this story required a lot of concentration and a lot of patience if you wanted to see the full picture that Taseer was painting with his words… but rest assured, it was worth the wait.
As I mentioned earlier the knowledge I took away from this book on Indian history was significant. Taseer uses his family of characters to let the reader experience The Emergency (1975), The Riot (1984) and The Mosque (1992) in a second hand kind-of-way, really digging into the emotional impact that would have been felt through these difficult times.
Both Skanda and Toby are lovers of the Sanskrit language and it features heavily throughout, providing links between the past and the present, I can only imagine the research and studying Taseer must have done to have been able to utilise this ancient Indian language throughout this tale.
As 565 pages long, it’s a hefty book that took me a few days to read but these moments where I put it down were equally important, as it gave me time to digest and reflect on all this book offers the reader.
Whilst I managed to grab a hardback copy of The Way Things Were at a book sale in Dubai, a quick glance at Amazon shows it is not as easy to find in the UK, so it seems the eBook option from Picador, is your best bet if this book tickles your fancy.
Until next time, stay safe, Chloé x