The book, Tell It to the Trees, by Anita Rau Badami is a gripping novel about an Indian family that lives in the isolated recluse of the wilderness found in a small town, Merrit’s Point, in northern British Columbia. And much like the setting, the family itself is hidden by the burden of their family secret—the domestic violence of their authoritarian father, Vikram Dharma.
One of Anita Rau Badami’s literary gifts is to be able to speak so effectively through first person narrative. Her prose as written through the eyes of her main characters, is natural, realistic, and effortless, and is as convincing as a controlling, self-indulgent child to a terrified, insecure one, to a bitter, nostalgic elder and an idealistic, empowered young woman.
The internal dialogue of the characters reveal a deeply wounded psychology, one that evolves from the suffering of domestic violence and the feelings of unworthiness, helplessness, and a lack of freedom, power, and control.
This voicelessness for each character is emotionally rerouted in different ways:
For Helen. Vikram’s first wife, she finds means of escape through the fantasy and adventure of an adulterous affair and eventually the courage to walk out on her abusive husband and only child.
For Akka, Vikram’s mother and children’s grandmother, she finds solace in the nostalgic memory that her own abusive husband is now long gone, having died from the freezing temperatures of British Columbia’s harsh winter. And the continual hope that others like her, who find themselves trapped in abusive relationships, might muster the courage to flee towards freedom independence.
Suman, Vikram’s second wife, in her subservient nature desperately tries to overcompensate for her husband’s cruelty with her full submission to him and the spoiling of the children. While she desires to leave a life of domestic violence, she is traumatized by fear of pain and retaliation.
Anu Krishnan, the family’s house tenant, while she suspects dysfunction in the family, can only communicate her thoughts openly and honestly in the pages of her not-so-private journal.
Hemnant, Vikram and Suman’s son, who is young and impressionable, is manipulated by his older half-sister into believing everything she says and is compelled and left to share the burden of his own fears with no one and nothing more than Tree, a tree on the family property that the children have named and chosen to be their confidant of secrets.
Varsha, Vikram and Helen’s eldest daughter is so traumatized by her mother’s absence that she clings to the idea of a family unit with such tenacity and fervor that to please her father and uphold the honour of her family name is her heartfelt aspiration, duty, and compulsion—even if the family she desperately tries to hold together is one with violence at its centre.
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