There are some books that you can breeze through with half a mind, whereas there are some that need your complete attention. “They Go to Sleep” not only belongs to the latter category, it also requires the reader to absorb each detail of the narrative before moving on to the next scene. Even if you miss a tiny item, you are bound to lose the thread of the story.
Saugata Chakraborty unleashes tale upon tale with a tightly-woven narrative which often takes such hairpin bends that the reader has to turn back a few pages just to get a grip on it. I found myself re-reading portions of several stories because I was baffled by the rapid turn of events.
Perhaps the most complex of all the short stories is “The Man Who Sold His Gods,” which spans locations as far flung as Chennai, Washington D.C., and Singapore. “Six Days, Seven Lives” is almost a shortened version of a novella as it laces together characters from Gujarat, Ernakulam, Paris, Mumbai, West Bengal, and New Delhi. When the denouement arrives, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed when you realize the lost potential of the artists. “P for Payback” is equally intricate and I admit I took quite a bit of time to understand what was going on.
“It was Time” is the shortest story, barely two pages long but it packs a mighty punch. I kept turning the page wondering if there could be more—I felt a sudden sense of loss at the end. The stories aren’t all meant to thrill. There are some light, heart-warming ones, too, like “A Man of Letters” and “What’s in a Name?” A topical tale with a heart-rending end is “The Short Lives of Shazia Sultana,” which deals with the issue of fake profiles on social media and the boredom of middle-aged housewives. I found the depiction of death in “Blowing in the Wind” quite disturbing and it was the only time when I felt that I needed to put down the book and recover a bit.
My least favourite stories were “The Other Side,” which I felt had unnecessary sub-plots and a predictable finale and “Aperture,” which I simply did not enjoy.
Chakraborty does not let up the pace at any point in the book. You feel unsatisfied when one story comes to an end and you want to pick up the next one quickly. I even read through the glossary at the end although I didn’t need to since most of the foreign words were familiar. I just wanted the roller-coaster ride to continue for a bit longer.
“They Go to Sleep” demands that you engage all your senses and immerse yourself in the myriad plots, characters, and cultures. It’s also a book that begs to be re-read, if only to experience the thrill, the joy, and the pain all over again.
(I was offered a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.)