A Patchwork Deception

Have you ever felt deceived by a book?

I picked up A Patchwork Family yesterday afternoon and was done with it by night. And while I started the book with a lot of anticipation, 24 hours later I feel completely deceived by it.

Towards the end of 2019 I realized how white my reading was. It comprised only of books by white authors. This fact left a very unsavory feeling in me. On top of it I realised that my knowledge of my country’s literature was almost zero. Double that unsavory feeling. Therefore, I decided to undo this and set a goal to read more Indian literature and more works by Authors of color in 2020.

I came across A Patchwork Family late last year in bookstagram. The book title was my first intrigue and next was that solemn cover picture. The blurb promised me a tale of unrelated characters coming together and forming a family after having lost their own. This premise got all my mind bells tingling. I have always been intrigued by strangers forming bonds that run deeper than the ties of blood. Hence, I immediately added the book to my TBR.

A Patchwork Family is the debut novel by Pune-based lawyer Mukta Sathe and it was longlisted for the JCB Literature Prize in 2019. This is not a bad book. Considering that it is a debut, it is a good book. The themes that the story covers is eye-opening and very relevant. The intent of the author is on point. I so wanted to give this book 1 extra star just for the intent.

Being a lawyer, Sathe has tried to bring out the follies of the Indian Judicial System through the tale in A Patchwork Family. And I think that is a really brave and honest thing to do. Apart from that, she has also tried to broach subjects like patriarchy, feminism, and privilege blended with the life of an Indian middle class family.

The story is told from the point of view of two characters – Ajoba and Janaki. Ajoba (meaning grandfather in Marathi) is Janaki’s grandfather’s best friend. Sathe initiated the book by establishing the fact of how these two characters came to be related. Ajoba is a regular visitor in Janaki’s house and has known the girl right from her birth. Across the course of the story, through stand-alone incidents, Sathe tries her best to convey how deep is the bond between Ajoba and Janaki. And that’s where my qualms with the book begins.

When I started the book, I expected that I will get to see how these two unrelated people will make their patchwork family function. But I did not get that. Infact, after finishing the book I felt that the entire story would have still been the same had Ajoba not been in the scene. Ofcourse the book would have been shorter, but the story would have stood. This redundancy of a main character really made me uncomfortable. In all honesty the relationship between Ajoba and Janaki didn’t make any sense to me and felt very unrealistic given the Indian setting.

Next was Janaki’s character. We are introduced to this headstrong female protagonist who initially seems like a fighter but later succumbs to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. I hate it when that happens. May be the author wanted to show character growth, however the metamorphosis lacked credibility. She seemed like someone who latches on to people and ideals based on her convenience and abandons them when they don’t agree with her mind space. I tried a lot to give her the benefit of the doubt considering all that she goes through, but towards the end she lost all my empathy.

Another complain from the book were underdeveloped characters. The characters of Rahul (Janaki’s brother) and Pratiksha (Janaki’s college friend) showed such great potential. But I was left unquenched by their treatment. Infact, instead of Ajoba, if Rahul would have been the other protagonist, the book would have made more sense. Sandhya was another character that had immense potential but was completely left hollow.

I really wanted to like this book. No doubt writer has put in a lot of heart in it. This book, this storyline could have been easily developed into 300+ pages book had the editor guided the writer. Mukta Sathe has not disappointed me. She gives me hope. But the editing was heartless, and that was the book’s prime folly.