One of the best things about being a debut author is being able to partake in the giddy and frantic exchange of galleys with other debut authors who are publishing the same year. Months ago, I was treated to Devi Laskar’s The Atlas of Reds and Blues — a book that I read in two sittings and that hooked me so immediately, I wish I had written it myself.
I haven’t read such a searing and accurate image of race, identity, and power in contemporary America before coming upon Laskar’s book. And one thing that I admire most about the novel is how it manages to take on some serious and relevant subjects without ever becoming tiresome–even readers with the most extreme kind of self-care plans would find the book transporting. Even while describing incidents that are all too realistic, the book often has an otherworldly feel, mostly due to the fact that it’s told in dreamy vignettes from a character we only know as “Mother.”
I felt immediately connected to Mother, especially as she recounted the experiences of her young daughters as they navigate a society that they are learning for the first time is hostile to them. A vignette about the kinds of gross questions that Mother is asked at a Southern party (“I learned about India when I was in grade school. Is it true y’all are all poor and beg in the street?”) follows another vignette in which her daughter tells Mother that one of her classmates has been forbidden from playing with a Black schoolmate. These distinct experiences, which take place generations apart, aren’t just a testament to how insidious the legacy of racism is. It’s also an example of how little we can protect our kids from the violence and trauma we experience ourselves; a trauma that takes a constant recovering-from. At the end of the vignette, Mother and daughter promise not to tell father about the classmate’s comment. Why? Because “he’ll be sad.”
In addition to its poignant commentary on American society and race, this is a book that pulses with warmth and life, that examines parenthood, love, and family from all angles, not shying away from the parts that hurt. The Atlas of Reds and Blues is as moving as it is heartbreaking, and it will stay with you long after reading.
Devi Laskar has written a profound and gorgeous debut, and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the years to come! And if you haven’t already ordered her book–you should do so here.
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