By Chao Shete
We all need a respite from the hustle and bustle of life, such is human nature. Books are my refuge.
Getting lost in the pages of a good book brings me a sense of security often elusive in the real world. I find it in tiny little pockets of the narrative. It is in the way the author writes about heartbreak and love; the assurance of living with a broken heart and nurturing it back to life again. I find it in paragraphs of successes and failures, reminding me it is okay to fully celebrate my wins, learn from my downfalls, and that failure is inevitable. It's also in loss and grief when all hope is gone, that I can learn to adapt and pick myself back up again. Books remind me of the unrivaled power of creativity to turn one's worldview around and understand different perspectives.
Recently, I have found myself gravitating towards books with themes surrounding suffering and endurance. In these books, I find myself in awe of how the characters found refuge in the most mundane things, and how they ultimately found something worth living for.
Take my two current reads, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and ‘When Breath Becomes Air’, for example. They transport me through the gripping tales of two individuals, oceans away from each other, who somehow have the same quest for hope–one, an Afghan woman's complicated search for freedom, friendship, and family, the other an American doctor’s struggle to accept his diagnosis and consequently, his mortality. While their lives are far removed from mine, these two books put forward a vivid portrayal of a world of suffering, anger, and heartbreak, they also very clearly outline the areas where they found hope and refuge.
In When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanathi, the author, shelters in the embrace of family and in writing, in which the result is the book. In writing about his diagnosis, he is forced to face his mortality, and in doing so, forces himself and the reader to answer pertinent existential questions such as, “If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least grow more familiar?” or "With the strife that often accompanies death, is it often easier to accept our fate that death comes to all of us?" This book has taught me to develop acceptance in death as a mortal; that there has to be an end. But then again, how do you decide what to do with your life when you’re not sure how much life you have left?
In A Thousand Splendid Suns, I am reminded of the quote, "Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice." In Mariam, the main character, I see a strong lady who mainly needs to be loved and acknowledged. However, Mariam seems to have a never-ending series of misfortunes. Getting immersed in her world, this book has served as a repository of a woman’s experience and wisdom. It offers insights into the complexities of life and the human condition.
Contrary to the themes of the aforementioned books, the act of reading these books itself becomes a refuge – a quiet space where my mind can retreat. It's a place where I can put myself in the characters’ shoes and empathise with the choices they make. Perhaps these are not normal books when referring to refuge, but there is something to be said when a character is exposed to so much pain and suffering that it reminds the reader of their privileges; a life of freedom, and a healthy one at that.
What I am trying to say is that I have come to realise that, in the solitude of a good book, I find sanctuary for introspection and self-discovery. The words on the page become mirrors, often reflecting my thoughts, fears, and aspirations. Through them, I learn how to navigate the labyrinth of my emotions and gain a deeper understanding of myself.
About the Writer:
Chao Shete is a writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She enjoys writing fiction, creative non-fiction essays and book reviews. When she is not writing, she spends most of her time getting lost between the pages of a good book.