The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar
Published by Counterpoint, 2019
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Laskar’s debut opens boldly, as her narrator, an American born Bengali woman, lies bleeding on her own driveway, having been shot by police during a raid. In a series of non-linear vignettes, her mind then wanders through the memories of her life, which has been shaped from the off by systemic racism.
The novel could potentially be criticised for falling into the “once you’ve read the blurb, you’ve read the book” category. By this, I mean that beyond the bold concept, there’s little in the way of overarching plot progression or deeper theme exploration. Instead, the series of snapshots paints a picture of an entirely normal domestic life in all its simple joys and quiet heartbreaks. This is also the book’s strength, however. There is nothing special or extraordinary about our protagonist; her story is not unique and her perspective reveals nothing that most of us aren’t already well aware of. As such, it’s no coincidence that she and her family remain nameless; their lack of identity emblematic of how easily their experiences of prejudice can be applied to virtually all people of colour living in modern America, and the way white society tends to see skin tone over and above anything else.
In many ways, the book is simple yet powerful, elevated by Laskar’s gorgeous prose, which often takes on a suitably ethereal quality as her narrator’s mind glides through space and time, ebbing and flowing towards her inevitably tragic end. Much remains unanswered, and while it will frustrate some, this too feels deliberate. What, after all, could possibly justify such baseless persecution?