‘Name Place Animal Thing’ is surely a curious title, and I picked it up solely for the curiosity and nostalgia it evoked. The title took me down memory lane as I reminisced about the days spent playing this game with friends and cousins during long summer breaks. Ah! Those carefree and precious bygone days… Anyway, coming back to the novella… Daribha Lyndem’s debut collection has the same magic—it is simple and honest. Shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature, 2021, Name Place Animal Thing, is a series of ten stories set in Shillong of the 90s and narrated by a Khasi woman, D, in vignette-style storytelling.
In this collection of stories, D narrates events from her life connecting the characters around her as she traverses from childhood to adulthood. Every story is a recollection of a character from D’s past. The characters in the stories are people who are important to D at that age. So, we have stories of a caretaker, shopkeeper, Hindi teacher, maths tutor, or best friend. As D progresses from an 8-year-old to a woman in her 20s, we experience the changes in the city, society, people, and the charged political atmosphere as well.
The author has captured the soul of Shillong in a heart-warming and captivating manner. I loved reading the descriptions of the hillside town, quaint houses, churches, food, and people. The Khasi words added to the authenticity, and a glossary would have helped readers like me who are unfamiliar with the language. I dislike looking up for meanings as it breaks my flow, so didn’t bother with that!
I found the lack of a strong plot or even sub-plots to be distracting. There is no linear storyline, but a disjointed narrative. Though we have D as the narrator, the stories would have worked well without her presence as well. She doesn’t add much value to the narration, and at times, her presence even acts as a distraction with her preconceived notions and ill-formed thoughts. We are forced to know the characters in relation to her.
Also, since the author wrote it in a memoir format, in certain places, D’s voice is not relevant to her age and gets muddled because of future influence.
There are fleeting references to the politically charged environment, racism, conversion, power of the Church, intolerance towards non-Khasis. D also witnesses the differences in traditions, religious practices, and beliefs, but the author doesn’t build much upon it. They remain nothing more than glimpses. I would have really loved to see the various aspects of Shillong being tied together as a whole.
This is not a self-published book, and the poor editing was shocking. What’s the point in going with an established publishing house when there are grammatical errors, typos, and sentences requiring restructuring? I am surprised it got shortlisted for JCB Prize for Literature, 2021 despite this.
‘Name Place Animal Thing’ will not find a place on my best reads shelf, but it’s a good place to start conversations on literature from the North-East.
My favourite quote from the book—mortality is an ensnared butterfly dying in a glass jar.
Wordsopedia Rating 3/5
|Title: Name Place Animal Thing||Author: Daribha Lyndem|
|Publisher: Zubaan Books||Publication date: December 1, 2021|
|Genre: Fiction – Contemporary||Format: Paperback|
|ISBN: 9788194760504||No. of Pages: 180|
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About the author
Daribha Lyndem is a writer and civil servant from Shillong. Name Place Animal Thing is her debut novel. It is a coming-of-age story about a young Khasi girl growing up in the fast-changing, multi-cultural Shillong of the 90s. She was named one of the promising writers of 2021 and beyond by digital magazine Feminism in India and in a list of ‘Best Summer Reads of 2020’ by Vogue India, and has reviews in The Hindu, The Caravan, Firstpost among others.
She currently works with the Indian Revenue Service as a Deputy Commissioner of Customs. Daribha now lives with three cats and a husband in Mumbai.