Novels are way to escape reality, not just for readers, but also for writers themselves. It cannot be truer than in the case of Bishakh Som, who through the graphic novel format has found a way to re-live life the way they really saw it.
“Spellbound” is Som’s memoir, but with a twist, where the author’s life is recollected as Anjali, a cisgender Bengali-American woman. Anjali studied architecture in Harvard, but after her parent’s demise, she quits her job and begins work on a graphic novel, hoping to make it big, maybe even have a Pulitzer under her name.
For most part, Som’s story is engrossing. The artwork clean, colorful and engaging. The art style is a little like American cartoonist Raina Telgemeier, who has written/illustrated popular graphic novel titles like ‘Ghosts’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Guts’. So while the artwork has a childish charm to it, the story deals with grown-up themes that are serious and poignant. Anjali helplessly sees her parents’ health deteriorating in front of her eyes. Her mother who was once a bright teacher, loses her self to Alzheimer’s, failing to recall basic things, like draping a saree.
Anjali has some interesting and supportive friends, but the most memorable character is her cat Ampersand. Originally foisted on her without consent, the two grow up to be loving house-mates. Almost. After Ampersand, it’s her parents that may leave an impression on the readers. Despite moving around the world, they remain ‘Bengali’ by heart, and their love for fish is unparalleled. Too bad that their daughter doesn’t share the same enthusiasm.
For some sneaky reason, it feels like the author isn’t being too candid about their life. Sure, they talk about their career conundrums, sexual confusion, dealing with mixed feeling, but it fails to touch the reader as a memoir. It doesn’t have the raw emotional quotient of graphic memoirs like “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare, but maybe given the title (Spellbound), the reader automatically has their expectations up. The cover has Som and Anjali joyously doing a dance step, but nowhere in the novel do you find that easy elation.
Towards the end, things gets a little less interesting, with the tone turning whiny, condescending. Anjali at points feels like a patronising dinosaur, who looks down upon people around her, for the most trivial of reasons – like being glued to phone screens. Maybe I felt personally attacked as a reader, because almost 50% of the books I read these days are ebooks on the kindle app for phones. We are not all wasting away like zombies by staring at funny memes or GIFs on our phones all day long.
Anyway, ‘Spellbound’ is an interesting read, especially due to the artwork, and is all about navigating who you are, not just in terms of sexuality, but also as an artist, friend and family. It’s a 3/5 from me.
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