I had to let this book sink in overnight before I tried to review it. It is a novel of rare and quiet power. In exquisite prose, told from the POV of five captivating characters, A State of Freedom is a tender, intimate, and heartbreaking portrait of modern India.
Though some may label this book a collection of novellas, rather than a novel, I found that the unusual structure added to the novel’s overall impact. Though the five stories are only loosely interconnected (characters cross over from section to section, but only in small ways), together, they tell a bigger story. In some ways, it felt as though the time and the place was the main character, rather than any of the individual people. All of the individual lives which Mukherjee describes with such grace and exquisite detail are part of a larger story: about poverty, family, displacement, migration, home.
Parts of this book were hard to read. One of the sections was about an abusive man who leaves his home village with a bear he intendeds to train, in order to make money. I found this character and his actions appalling, and yet, I was moved by his story. I saw this man’s humanity, despite his cruelty, and I could not book the book down, even though I sometimes wanted to. It’s a testament to the power of Mukherjee’s writing.
A State of Freedom is complicated and messy. Much like life, it does not resolve itself neatly. In the hands of a less talented writer, such a book could have left me unsatisfied. This one left me feeling sad, contemplative, and moved–but absolutely satisfied. I know I’ll be digesting it for a long time to come.