10 May / Circa by Devi S. Laskar [in Shelf Awareness]
Devi S. Laskar’s sophomore novel, Circa, is an intense meditation on multigenerational grief and loss. Laskar (The Atlas of Reds and Blues) adopts an uncommon second-person narration for Heera, born in New York and raised in Raleigh, N.C., by Indian immigrant parents. She’s American by birthright, but she’s relentlessly reminded, “it is the India of your ma and baba’s past where you live day to day.” For now, she’s a senior facing high expectations: “it will reflect badly if she cannot even enter Princeton or Harvard.” Her best friends – despite the complicated history their parents share with Heera’s parents – are siblings Marie and Marco, the latter a year older and maybe her first love.
And then a drunk driver kills Marie on Heera’s 18th birthday. Heera and Marco both “change for good in those hours just after Marie dies.” Marco demands to be called Crash. Heera becomes Dia – “Heera” means “diamond” in Bengali – and assumes its “glassy hard brilliance … dry-eyed and stoic.” The survivors veer sharply apart. Heera accepts an arranged marriage in New York City, although her disengaged husband allows her to attend college. Marco all but vanishes, until he appears unexpectedly at an extended family celebration. Everything – or nothing – could change.
Set in the late 1980s through the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Laskar’s slim narrative shrewdly belies fierce depth. While Marie’s shocking death mutes Heera for years, the women around her seem to exemplify possible paths: her resigned mother; her mother-in-law, trapped by others’ opinions; and a family friend’s missing daughter. Skillfully and empathically, Laskar carves Heera a future of her own.