Book Review: ‘Everything the Light Touches’ by Janice Pariat

Immersive, elegant and exploring!

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Book Title: Everything the Light Touches
Author: Janice Pariat
Publisher: Fourth Estate India (A HarperCollins India Imprint)
Number of Pages: 512
ISBN: 978-9356291393
Date Published: Oct.. 25, 2022
Price: INR 493

Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat Book Cover

Book Review

Everything the Light Touches“, a captivating novel by Janice Pariat, weaves the lives of four individuals united by their shared passion for travel and ecology. The story unfolds across continents and centuries, utilizing various narrative styles like prose, poetry, and letters to deliver a multi-layered and immersive experience.

The first character introduced is Shai, a young Indian botanist on a quest to discover her roots in the northeastern region of India. Enchanted by the unique flora and fauna of the area, she becomes drawn to the indigenous Khasi people and their profound connection to the land. Shai’s journey represents a search for identity interwoven with the intricacies of nature. Next, we encounter Evelyn, an 18th-century British botanist whose travels lead her to Italy. Fascinated by the Italian landscape, she also becomes entangled in the political and social upheaval of the time. The reader glimpses the intersection of scientific curiosity and the turbulent historical backdrop through Evelyn’s eyes.

The narrative then delves into the life of Johann Philipp Möller, a German poet, and naturalist from the same century, who embarks on a journey to Lapland. As a student of Goethe, Möller explores the intricate relationship between humans and nature while developing a deep fascination with the Sami people and their rich oral traditions. Lastly, the novel introduces Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist hailed as the father of modern taxonomy. His journey to Lapland in the 1730s presents a scholarly quest to study the region’s flora and fauna, but it also exposes him to the fascinating ways of life of the Sami people.

The intertwined stories of these four characters offer diverse perspectives on the interplay between humans and nature. Pariat masterfully uses their narratives to contemplate the impermanence of the natural world and the profound potential for humans to connect with and learn from nature.

The novel’s structure is ingeniously designed as a palindrome, with Shai’s story framing the entire narrative. This symmetry emphasizes the characters’ interconnectedness and underscores the cyclical nature of life and the environment. Throughout the book, Pariat artfully explores complex themes, including the relationship between humanity and nature, the significance of preserving cultural heritage, and the inevitability of change. The novel refuses to offer easy answers, prompting readers to contemplate the profound questions raised within its pages. Carl’s chapter is delightful for the beautiful verses present.

The fully fleshed-out and relatable characters enrich the story’s emotional depth. Readers find themselves invested in Shai, Evelyn, Möller, and Linnaeus, empathizing with their struggles and celebrating their triumphs. Evelyn draws inspiration from Goethe’s botanical writings. A Cambridge student from Edwardian times, she travels to India searching for a plant with an unknown origin to find her sense of belonging. Despite the trials and tribulations of her journey, her unwavering spirit leads her closer to her destination.

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The characters’ journeys are transformative, carrying their motives and desires while often remaining ignorant of their deeper messages. Humanity is akin to the leaves on a tree—coexisting harmoniously but speaking their own unique languages. The penultimate leaf does not signify an end but a new beginning, as light perpetually touches the roots in an ongoing process of evolution.

Everything the Light Touches” emerges as a work of literary art, beautifully written and thought-provoking. Pariat’s lyrical and evocative prose expertly captures the essence of the natural world, leaving a lasting impact on the reader’s mind. The novel serves as a poignant reminder of preserving our natural heritage and reawakening our connection to the environment.

To anyone who appreciates nature writing, historical fiction, or a compelling story, “Everything the Light Touches” is highly recommended. Its intricate narrative structure, compelling themes, and well-developed characters will linger in your thoughts long after you’ve turned the last page.