After growing up on a sugar cane farm in Tongaat in Durban, 22-year old Meera Narain, is forced into a loveless and abusive marriage. Her husband, a doctor of high-standing, and her vindictive and cruel mother-in-law, treat Meera like an animal. Her family is uninterested. After all, she is a woman, and she must endure, quietly.
Following some years of traumatic misuse, Meera makes a decision that leaves her ostracised from her family and community. Beaten and bruised, she walks out on her husband and escapes to Dublin in Ireland where she accepts a position at a school for autistic children. But the emotional damage that’s been inflicted on her follows her across continents and she engages in self-destructive behaviour.
Meera’s affair with the father of one of the autistic children becomes an obsession, leading her further down a dark spiral and resulting in her committing an unspeakable and horrific act. Now, another community shuns her and Meera is forced to try and regain control of her life.
What About Meera is not an easy read. Besides the abuse experienced by various characters, the plot is a bit obscure in places and difficult to follow. At times I felt that there was too much happening at once. Perhaps it’s because of the stream-of-consciousness writing that is employed in parts of the novel. In some instances, it’s brilliant, in others, a little restraint would make it easier to deduce whether Meera is hallucinating, recalling real events, or actually experiencing them. Or maybe the confusion is intentional.
The launch of the book was overshadowed by an attack on author ZP Dala. Dala was assaulted by two men on her way home from a launch in Durban. It’s believed the incident is linked to her comment that she admired the work of Salman Rushdie. Her criticism of arranged marriages in Indian communities is palpable in her book.
The novel is a bleak and wry examination of uncomfortable topics around abuse, and even race (there is a horrific scene involving skin-lightening cream). There is some redemption and a hint of hope in the story, but I find it difficult to see it as a “courageous triumph”, which is how some critics have described it.
Best passage: “Some things just happen. They can’t be avoided. Some things happen before they actually happen. They happen first inside you, and then they happen when you pull them outside. Inside-ly first. Then outside-ly. As if you had a choice. You never, ever have a choice. Things happen”.
Rating: 3 out of 5
What about Meera is published by Umuzi.