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Inside the Mirror

Author: Parul Kapur

Publisher: ‎ University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2024)

REVIEWED BY VEENA RAO*

Inside the Mirror by Parul Kapur is a poignant exploration of women's agency and ambition set against the backdrop of 1950s Bombay’s dynamic art scene. At the heart of the novel lies the struggle of twins, Jaya and Kamlesh, to carve out their identities within the confining societal norms of the time.
 

Kapur's meticulous portrayal of a supposedly forward-thinking Punjabi family examines the pervasive influence of patriarchy, even in the progressive circles of the time. The twins’ father is a champion of education, but it is he who determines what the twin sisters will study. Jaya is to become a doctor, and Kamlesh a teacher. Their artistic expressions in art and dance are to remain merely hobbies.

"What is art? Is art a life?" the mother laments at one point. This question is central to the narrative and examines what happens when the characters choose art as life. Jaya and Kamlesh come alive as flesh and blood people with beating hearts that feel passion and pain in equal measures. Readers are immersed in the intricate dynamics and nuanced interactions between the sisters, their parents, and their formidable grandmother, Bebeji.

 

Adding layers of depth and complexity to the characters' journeys is a romantic angle, while the novel also delivers a poignant reflection on the power of art to preserve time and memory. Jaya finds solace in the knowledge that through her paintings, she can immortalize the people she has loved and lost.

While a thoroughly researched book with a moving narrative, some parts of the story do not really move the story forward. But this shortcoming pales in comparison to the novel's overarching impact.

Inside the Mirror is a deserving winner of the AWP Prize for the Novel.

*Veena Rao is an award-winning Indian-American author and journalist. She is the founding editor of NRI Pulse, an Atlanta-based newspaper that serves the South Asian communities of the US. She has been recognized by The Limca Book of Records (the Indian version of the Guinness Book of Records) as the first Indian woman to edit and publish a newspaper outside India.

Purple Lotus, her debut novel, is a 2021 American Fiction Award winner, a 2021 Georgia Author of the Year finalist and an award-winning finalist in the multicultural and women’s fiction categories of the 2021 International Book Awards.

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