That’s How Whales Are Born
By Anxos Sumai
Small Stations Press – £8.99
[…] precisely because she didn’t hit me, I cried on account of the tenderness I felt, and the tears rolled down my cheeks like streams of caustic soda. They hurt. They hurt and left marks I am still able to see and feel when I look at myself in a mirror or when I place my fingertips, all ten of them, on my face.
That’s How Whales Are Born is a book of such immense depth and literary persuasion, such beauty of life’s veritable clarification; it’s a wonder how authoress Anxos Sumai reached its shimmering and most thought provoking end. Just one of the many reasons being that from the very opening page, one instinctively knows one is in for a roller-coaster ride of the most implicit, yet exquisite emotion:
”Mother looks elated in these photographs, with a bright smile and a joyful look in her eye. Father, handsome but serious, seems distant, aware of something that was not actually taking place at that moment. I think I remember the day when Mother tore up the rest of the photos. I was still very young and lacked the exact words to ask her why she was ripping herself up like that. I was also unable to intuit the meaning of the wrath and misery they held for her.”
Without wanting to give too much away, these 272 pages traipse the exceedingly thin line betwixt familial loyalty (which in this case, just happens to be laced with a profound sadness), and that of the need to follow ones’ own, resolute path of independence.
In other words, a tough dilemma; but, which in the most delicate words of Sumai, ends up bequeathing some sort of inspired beauty – where in truth, only struggle ought to surely prevail:
”She knew too well the sounds of her son’s most intimate ceremony, and knew it barely lasted a minute. She recalled that when Ramon was younger, he’d thought to do it in front of Natalia, who screamed, outraged, that the boy was a damned ape in heat. Immaculate, exquisite, and elegant, Natalia didn’t consider Ramon a human being. At most he was a baby in a man’s body, and babies were asexual beings to her. Sexless angels, innocent souls dancing in limbo like dust motes cavorting in a sunbeam. Mother had to teach him that satisfying desire was a personal thing […]. She even allowed him – on more than one occasion – to lie beside her and touch her. But that was an unutterable secret, something that tormented her every time it happened […].”
I’m hard pressed to think of a recent novel so emotionally fraught with anywhere near as much subliminal hubris, combined with harrowing heartbreak. As such, That’s How Whales Are Born is unquestionably up there with the likes of Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things. No mean feat.