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Book Review Of Damayanti Biswas’ ‘You Beneath Your Skin’

Posted: February 13, 2020

Who are we all beneath our skin? Is beauty only skin deep? In a world that is increasingly obsessed with hard-to-attain standards of beauty, what does an acid-attack survivor go through? Is it possible to recover after an acid attack? The scars run deeper than the burns on the skin. What is the psychology behind those who commit crimes against women?

Damayanti Biswas’ ‘You beneath your skin’ deals with a story that explores these themes. She has etched her characters so well that the reader gets into their psyches and understands them to their very core. It is tough to believe that she is a first-time author. The book flows effortlessly, and the story has you turning page after page to know more about these characters whose points of view are reflected so well.

The plot is carefully constructed, and the characters are all intimately connected, sharing complex relationships.

Nikhil, a child with autism; his mother, Anjali, a psychiatrist who is having an affair with Jatin, special commissioner of crime; Anjali’s involvement with an NGO; Jatin’s sister Maya, his wife Dhrishti, his son Varun and Varun’s friend Bunty, the kids at the NGO— are all interlinked and share a history that leads to actions that change their lives forever.

As this is a whodunnit, I wanted to know who the perpetrator of the acid attack was — my instinct as a reader who had read the excellent character sketches gave me broad hints as to who it was— and I wasn’t wrong in guessing. Because as much as this book is a whodunnit, it’s also a whydunnit— the most important piece of the puzzle is motive. Who would want to mutilate and disfigure women, changing their lives forever with a splash of acid?

Misogyny leads people to become monsters. And monsters live among us all. The author shows how things are not always as they seem and that every family has secrets. Although some cold feeling at the pit of my stomach told me who the criminal was likely to be, I still had to turn the pages to know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. ‘You beneath your skin’ also gives an inside peek into the corruption and politics our country faces every day. It is a must-read in India, a country that saw Nirbhaya not too long ago and continues to see gruesome rape and murders so frequently.

The book is an ode to the marginalised in society. What stands out in this book is how the acid attack survivor stays so unbelievably strong through all of these horrific acts intended to break and ruin her. This realisation is echoed through Jatin’s character, who remarks that the women in his life are phenomenally strong.

The author has handled complicated, tenuous relationships with care and dexterity. The story flows smoothly, and elements of suspense, shock, horror, love, sympathy and empathy are all woven into this wonderfully sensitive book that will stay with you for life.

The narrative of the book was researched and shaped during the author’s work with Project WHY, and some of the experiences of acid attack survivors from the non-profit https://www.chhanv.org/. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to these two non-profits.

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Editor, Bibliophile, Blogger, Writer, Poet. I find reading helps me make sense of the world

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