Jayanthi Sankar’s When Will You Die? is a socio psychological thriller. This book is raw and intense and explores a spectrum of emotions. It is a work of art with subtle nuances captured through the author’s skilful observations. Written mostly in epistolary style, the story is predominantly about relationships. The author touches upon the expectations individuals have, the things they do for love, and the disappointment and baggage that comes along with a relationship. The central protagonists of this story are Susan, her husband Suiyi, and her brother, Joe.
Susan’s mother dies while birthing Joe, leaving her to assume the role of a foster mother at the tender age of twelve. Susan strives to rise above her circumstance to create a better life for them. She forms an unlikely friendship with the Singaporean Suiyi by writing letters to him. His replies are a welcome respite to her as she struggles to care for little Joe and their grandmother.
Years later, an adult Susan relocates to Singapore to fulfil her dream of employment and a better life. There, she marries Suiyi, and tries to integrate and establish her identity in a foreign land. Joe depends financially and emotionally on her, and his downward spiral is draining for both of them. In due course, Susan realizes that being a giver in every relationship leaves her feeling bereft.
The story alternates between the idyllic beaches of Goa and the concrete jungle of Singapore. There is so much said, yet there is more unsaid. The world that the author weaves is remarkable- a tangled web of love, loss, and longing. There are secrets that each character knows, yet they keep these to themselves even when it eats them from the inside.
What stunned me is the author’s use of the literary canvas- she splashes it with colour in the most unconventional of ways. The narrator varies; at times it is a leaky roof that safeguards secrets; other times it is a draft email that remains unsent for many years. The author even inserts herself in the story at a juncture; something that I found to be wickedly delightful!
When will you die? This is a question that many fear and do not want to think about. When we stop being happy, aren’t we dead inside already? When we become slaves to monotony, doesn’t a part of us die already? The author’s words with their immense depth make the reader pause and ponder.
The chapters are quite short, making this an easy read. While the language is lucid and flows easily, the book took some time to absorb and sink in. With its vivid character sketches, this is a fabulous work of literary fiction and a masterclass as to how the boundaries of writing can be stretched to create something intriguing and memorable.