Title: Everything was Good-Bye
Author: Gurjinder Basran
Release Date: December 31, 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asia)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Meena is a teenager in her last year of high school, and like any other North American teenager, she thinks often of what the future holds for her. One thing she knows for sure, though, is that what she wants for herself and what her mother wants for and expects of her are two very different things. Meena is one of six daughters and her mother has raised them singlehandedly. Though they live in Canada, Meena is expected to follow Punjabi Indian traditions and accept an arranged marriage. As Meena struggles to create an identity for herself within the strict confines of her community, she begins to realize that she may never find happiness unless she follows her heart.
Everything was Good-Bye tells the story of Meena through the long and difficult years of her life. At seventeen, she’s so bright and full of promise. She understands what’s expected of her, yet she is willful and hopes to break free of the strict rules her mother places on her. As the novel progresses and the years pass, it’s clear that Meena’s been worn down by her culture. She so badly wants to do what everyone around her believes is right, to follow her mother’s wishes, and it’s clear that those actions take their toll. Meena’s spark erodes; she becomes pliant, unable to make a decision because she doesn’t want to hurt those around her.
Meena is incredibly easy to sympathize with in Everything was Good-Bye. You don’t have to be Indian, or even from another culture, to understand the pressure of expectations. And indeed, it’s not difficult to understand why she chafes under Punjabi restrictions. It would be so easy to paint Meena’s mother as a tyrant, as a woman who needs to exert complete control over her daughters’ lives, yet Basran doesn’t let the reader demonize Meena’s mother. It’s clear that she’s doing the best she can, in the best way she knows how. It’s for this reason Meena can’t bear to disappoint her mother and is willing to sacrifice much personal happiness to fulfill her mother’s wishes.
Basran’s writing in Everything was Good-Bye is crisp and clear. This is an incredibly easy novel to read; readers will feel personally involved in Meena’s story. It’s not a heavy novel and it won’t drag the reader down while reading, but it is very contemplative. Readers will itch to discuss Meena’s motives and her decisions with others. As a result, this novel would make a great book club pick as it lends itself easily to discussion.
If you’re seeking out a thoughtful read that will draw you in emotionally, Everything was Good-Bye is a great choice. It’s a quiet novel about the clash of cultures embodied in one young woman; Basran’s commentary is thoughtful and she doesn’t provide any easy answers for the reader. It’s an incredibly well-written debut novel and I certainly look forward to seeing what Basran does next.