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Amidst sanity and madness

The Mad Sisters Of Esi transported me into a world of enigmatic wonder, where reality blends with the fantastical, and the boundaries of time and space become mere suggestions. Within the cosmic chambers of the whale of Babel, Myung and Laleh hold the keys to ancient folktales, praying to their creator, the elusive ‘Great Wisa’. For Laleh, this existence of exploring the many chambers of the whale with her sister is everything and enough, but for Myung, it falls short.

As Myung embarks on a daring escape from the whale eager to find more people, she stumbles upon a universe of shapeshifting islands and cryptic maps. Here, a tragic yet transformative adventure unfolds, not only for Myung but for Laleh as well. At the core of their journey to find their way back to each other lies an age-old mystery: the truth about the mad sisters of Esi and the origin of everything they know about their world.

Through the four main characters, the sisters Laleh and Myung from the Whale of Babel, and the sisters Magali and Wisa, from the world outside, Tashan Mehta has woven together fables, dreams, and myths across fanciful landscapes, featuring a museum of collective memory and a festival of madness. Her story forces the characters to confront a fundamental question: in a world plunged into chaos, where truth is ever-evolving, what do we choose to hold onto?

Under the guise of a whimsical adventure story that features, whales, shapeshifting islands, and pirates, Mehta’s narrative is one of sisterhood, and not just any kind, but the sisterhood that extends beyond blood to encompass the profound connections women forge through shared experiences and unwavering support to the point of even madness. Through the characters’ journeys, you witness the transformative power of these sisterly bonds that remind you that family is not solely defined by blood but by the unconditional love and understanding that transcends all boundaries and boxes. To me, the most beautiful aspect that Mehta brings out is how the relationships between the characters portray sisterhood as a sanctuary that, even when seemingly not enough, is enough.

Her story serves as a testament to the profound impact the women you call your sisters can have on your life.

Mad Sisters Of Esi defies conventional categorisation, offering a fantasy that eschews rigid explanations of its magical elements. Instead, readers are thrust into the heart of a story set within the cosmic confines of a whale. This celestial leviathan becomes a representation of the larger tension that defines the narrative which is the interplay between sanity and madness, and the extraordinary power of creation inherent in the latter.

The characters, driven by insatiable desires for knowledge, connection, and escape, traverse both time and space, often colliding and intertwining in unexpected ways. Mehta’s universe is simultaneously eerie and unfamiliar, challenging even its inhabitants to find their footing within its ever-changing landscapes. The narrative form mirrors this dynamism, shifting seamlessly between viewpoints, narrative styles, and temporal planes, and even taking the form of published research papers. The storytelling delicately unravels the intricate layers of the tale, uncovering hidden connections and revelations.

Intricate world-building

The prose weaves a rich tapestry of language that carries readers along on the currents of emotion and magic. The writing exudes confidence and conviction, that encourages you to suspend all disbelief and delve deep into the narrative without questioning anything. The whimsical world-building is nothing short of extraordinary. From sentient islands to mythical creatures, every page unfurls a new marvel. Mehta’s ability to craft such intricately detailed realms invites readers to lose themselves in the sheer wonder of it all.

With its mesmerising blend of myth, magic, and madness, the book is a warm invitation to embark on a journey that is both hauntingly beautiful and profoundly thought-provoking. The poignant writing style strikes a delicate balance between evoking deep emotions and painting playful landscapes. The portrayal of the sisters’ determination to reunite is beautifully rendered, tugging at the heartstrings with each turn of the page.

The characters, especially the two sets of sisters, are intricately developed. Their individual journeys, marked by trials and triumphs, resonate on a profound level. A beautiful, refreshing and raw read, the story of the mad sisters of Esi serves as a truthful reminder of the unbreakable bonds that connect us all, transcending time, space, and worlds and is an ode to the enduring power of love and family.

(Published 28 October 2023, 19:50 IST)

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