Dignity Book Review
I purchased this book at the Edinburgh book festival in 2019 after seeing Alys Conran interviewed and I don’t know why it took me so long to pick it up. It is a beautifully written story all about the meaning of home, which seems particularly apt for this year.
The story is told through the eyes of 3 very different women. It centres around Magda’s house by the sea in a Welsh town. She was born in colonial India, sent to boarding school as young child and had a career as a scientist. However, when we meet her, she longer leaves home and the house is gradually fading away along with her. She is fully dependent on carers coming in several times a day, and unable to move around freely, she spends a lot of time lost in the past of her childhood. The second character is Evelyn, Magda’s mother, she travelled to northern Indian in the 1930s to be married. Despite initially resisting, she was utterly changed as a person by the experience – really becoming the colonial wife she was expected to be. Again, the theme of home is extremely prominent as the women in India spend so much time and focus discussing “back home” as well as trying to recreate that sense of home in India. The final character is Susheela, one of Magda’s daily carers. She’s struggling with grief and the pressures of daily life, and despite Magda’s extremely prickly character, the two of them form an unlikely bond.
This book is definitely not plot driven, but more a look at each of the character’s lives. It’s about the way they define home and how they try to create that for themselves or in fact feel like they’re losing it. We learn Susheela’s mum was searching for, but never found, an English equivalent for the Bangla word Desh, meaning the where that’s who you are. Doesn’t that just sum up the meaning of home – it’s not just the place itself, but the also the feeling home gives you. If you enjoy family stories, then I recommend picking this one up.