Not only the things that have happened
Rs. 499 PP 352
In one sense, the events of Mridula Koshy’s first novel take place over a period of less than two days. In another, they span over four decades. At the centre of the novel are Annakutty Verghese and the son she had out of wedlock, and whom she was convinced to give away. Divided into two halves, set (mostly) in Kerala and the American Midwest respectively, Not Only The Things That Have Happened tells the story of this separation and what it means to both mother and child.
Both learn to structure their lives around a single great absence. Annakutty never gives up the search for her son, tracing his outline on the sheets of her bed, his growing in the teenaged mannerisms of young boys she sees on the bus. She relives her time with him constantly through the stories she tells her niece Nina, and as the stories themselves change so does her understanding of her own loss.
Meanwhile Madhu, now named Asa Gardener, struggles with his status as “a child without history”, something his adoptive parents specifically asked for. Asa doesn’t know where he comes from, has no language with which to understand the scraps he remembers, and for much of his young adulthood compensates for his lack of a real story by creating a series of fake histories of himself.
Both Annakutty and Asa, then, structure their lives around the possibility of things that have not happened. Annakutty will find her son, or at least will live on in him as her last message for him suggests. Asa will find who he is. Not Only The Things That Have Happened is a story about absence and memory and the telling of stories.
While I have described it earlier in this review as being roughly divided into two, memories don’t work that way; it leaps nimbly between times and styles and its characters’ points of view. The sheer quality of Koshy’s prose is probably the best reason to read her, and in the earlier sections in particular the book’s structure offers her a great deal of scope to play with style, as well as to weave in the cadences of colloquial Malayalam.
Koshy manages to touch upon the politics of adoption, language, exile, identity. Such a novel could easily have fallen into the trap of being dull and worthy. That is doesn’t is something of a triumph; this is a fantastic book.
Aishwarya Subramanian is a writer and critic who lives in New Delhi.