Bitter Wormwood – Book Review

The book I will be reviewing today is called Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire. There are a few reasons for choosing this book as the first to review on this blog. Firstly, it happens to be a very well written book centred on a region that is close to my own heart. Secondly, this book is what I would describe as historical fiction and that is what I one day also hope to write. And thirdly, this is a book that moves your heart and helps you understand the intricate complexities of India’s most beautiful and misunderstood region.

The book is based in Nagaland which is a small hill state in the North-Eastern region of India. Being a north-easterner myself, I was excited and ecstatic as soon as I saw this book. I have always dreamed of having my own books. To see another north-easterner with her own books gives me hope that I can also make it in an ever competitive world of literature.

Bitter Wormwood is published by Zubaan , an independent publishing house from New Delhi and Easterine Kire is a Naga writer whose books also include A Naga Remembered, A Terrible Matriarchy and Mari. The title of her book, Bitter Wormwood actually refers to a herb that was traditionally believed to have supernatural attributes. It kept bad spirits away and brought good luck to the wearer of the talisman.

This is central to the story which is actually one about the Naga independence struggle. From the mainland Indian perspective, the Naga movement was a secessionist movement that wasn’t all that important and was therefore, never given much ground when it came to writing the history of the nation. Separatist movements are given little significance. But to the Naga, it was a struggle for independence in which many lost their lives. It was a war with no victory and the scars of the battle remain etched in the heart of the Naga. Bitter Wormwood is a book that captures beautifully and poignantly the essence of the struggle as well as the human cost of it.

The novel traces the life of a young Naga boy who grew up to join the underground movement and later grew old to watch the struggle that he was ready to give his life for, turn into something so terrible that the violence that came along rips the heart of his people. The book gives you an insight into the atrocities of the Naga war, the human rights violations, the pain, the heartache and, even the forgiveness and restoration that comes in the end. The writing is surprisingly simple and yet, refreshing. Easterine Kire has been able to use the art of simplicity to catch hold of the complexity of humanity and the human struggle.

The book is now a personal favourite and something I recommend for every person to read. This is a book that is not only enjoyable, but also, inspiring as it gives a heart-rending insight into Nagaland, an unexplored, misunderstood, rich and beautiful part of India. For those who want to see a different and unconventional side of the nation and its people, this is the book to read.

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Zubaan (2013)
  • Language: English
  • Price: Rs 210

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