I just loved this generous book. Generous, yes, this is the word that insisted itself as I read this collection of essays. Sejal Shah is a writer of startling insight and lyric prose and these essays, written over the course of two decades, show us a writer deepening her craft and her understanding of self. They are both personal and universal. What a gift! I felt like I was looking in a window, no, out a window, a window thrown open onto a life both unknown to me and familiar. How cool is that? I smiled and laughed, learned, nodded in recognition and, across the last couple of essays, found tears streaming down my cheeks. Here are a few tasty morsels.
Writing about memorizing verses from the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, with her grandfather, she writes – The cadence of this language that I do not speak in, do not think in, do not even understand, and which belongs to a culture that is mine, but not fully mine is part of what made me interested in language.
And this, which encapsulates something I have felt but never been quite able to articulate – I think many of us travel for the same reason — to feel the edges of ourselves simultaneously sharpened and blurred.
And, how gorgeous is this – During that year in Iowa, I felt free, felt the flat edges of the world curl up against my fingers, pressed myself into the earth and felt, for a moment, held. Far from the ballast of family and familiar places, far from everywhere I had lived previously, I felt weightless, unanchored by the past. First it was startling, depressing. Then, I found my footing, finding the familiar in the unfamiliar.
Shah writes about belonging/not belonging, about family, about finding our places, about home/wandering. She writes about her experience growing up a brown girl/woman in a white world, deepening my visceral understanding. As a very white (i.e. redhaired) woman, these are experiences I did not share, cannot really know, but Sejal Shah brought them into sharp relief for me and I thank her for that.
And a lovely bonus, as I read the lengthy acknowledgements, I found that she and I shared a dance teacher, Daphne Lowell, who I remember with such fondness. Daphne taught me much about myself, as a dancer and as a human being. : )