Sometimes, I like books that are disturbing. I like them because their details churn inside my mind like a cauldron. However, why I really like them is because they seem real to me . They are real in terms of the depressing, disturbing and destructive reality that reside for thousands of people in this world. They are real in terms of how this disturbance comes to each one of us in different ways.
Reading Alice Sebold’s memoir, ‘Lucky’, spoilt my winter break. Literally. Everything became sore to the eye and tasted yucky. Including my own saliva. This is no exaggeration. Alice Sebold chose to write about her own life and in many ways, her tragedy. And how in those years of despair, she fought to seek an explanation. Sebold was a college freshman at Syracuse University when she was attacked and raped on the last night of school. She was raped inside a dark and dingy tunnel where shreds of glass scraped every bit of her skin and she was violently forced to oblige by her assailant. With all her might and life, Sebold kept talking to keep her assailant a little away and to convince herself that she was still alive. Reading those first few pages can put many of us off. However, I think there is a reason why the author chooses to describe, in the very beginning, the cruel details of the physical and mental violence that she endured. That is how her story really started. That is the point when an ordinary, bespectacled unassuming woman like herself was subjected to a merciless brutality and her dignity was looted forever. This is not the story of a woman who went partying wild or had boys swoon over her. This is not the story of someone in a feudal setting or with a wicked stepfather.This is the reality for thousands of girls in the United States of America, who suffer just like their counterparts elsewhere. It reveals to us how even the best of American dreams can come crashing down. I don’t feel an inch better to write that there are actually more rape cases happening in the West than in our part of the world. Wherever it happens, it simply takes away one innocent life and nothing – no statistics or justice or sympathy can ever bring it back.As one goes through the book, we not only see how Sebold’s own world changes, but also of how the world changes because of that violence. The very word, ‘rape’, repels her friends and acquaintances. Even before having known the details, the rape makes them extremely disturbed and uncomfortable. Just like it turned out to be for me.Sebold seems to come across as brazen and too blunt when she tells people in their face that she has been raped. That makes her a double victim, doesn’t it? Don’t we find her audacity appalling, then? Rape victims usually do not reveal that they have been attacked. Out of societal pressure, lapses on behalf of the system, lack of proper justice, but above all – from their own ingrained fear of bringing dishonour and shame to one’s self and to one’s family.As if the honour of a family and country is the sole responsibility of its women. As if their bodies are sites on which we can experiment our tryst with honour and dignity.Hypocrisy has always ruled.Legal statistics tell us that many of the sex crimes, even in the West, go unreported. On occasions, when they do get reported, the process is lengthy and sometimes, the victims drop the charges in order to avoid facing even more despair.Ah. Isn’t that very word, ‘victim’ more repelling? A victim of what? Some man’s pervertedness? Of blatant violence? Or a victim of having been born a woman, an irreversible act in itself?However, Sebold’s account of her ordeal cuts across these lines. She attempts to convey that pain and sorrow do not lie solely with the victim but with those around them as well. Her emotional struggle with the rape (her first ‘real’ sexual experience), post-rape addiction with heroin, encounters later with other men and women and the responses of her own parents, blur the lines and tell you of the profound impact that such violent acts can cause. However, what triumphs ultimately, is her ability to speak openly about it – something which is a struggle for many others as also her courage to bring her assailant to task. Sebold’s persistence and faith in tracking down the rapist leaves you with a sense that justice, sometimes, prevails over all tragedies. Her memoir weaves together incidents of her childhood and adolescence, her relationship with her sister and the emotional issues that hung above her ever since.The title of the book, ‘Lucky,’ can lead readers to create different first impressions. However, she names her memoir Lucky in memory of a police officer, who in his attempts to mollify her later, told her that a young woman had been murdered there and, by comparison, Sebold should consider herself lucky.Sebold’s account also highlights one of the biggest strengths that we humans hold, but seldom exercise. The power of memory. Her fiercely observed memoir brings to light every detail – from the colour of the leaves to the expressions on people she has met only once in her life. It is memory that lets Sebold fight against all odds. Her memory is the only weapon that she possesses.The book is truly heart-wrenching because it compels you to wake up from your cosy shell and realise a few important things. She talks about the rape as a larger social issue that plagues relationships and creates gaps between people. She tells you how the police, court and media think. She boldly writes about how her being raped changed what her loved ones thought of her and how differently they treated her since. Rape for her, wasn’t simply inflicted by that one man in that tunnel, but by all those who failed to understand her.Rape can change lives. It can change them in the spur of the moment, but what it will never change is the scar it leaves. It is not just the brutality of such crimes that render women, and even men, helpless but the inhumanity of the whole matter. The violence that butchers women’s bodies and souls and gives them no space to survive.I salute Sebold for her will to survive, and in doing so, hopefully letting others know that life is beyond the ordeals that falls upon us. It is about the uncompromising strength of the human spirit.Divya Kannan[Image courtesy: http://images.amazon.com/images/P/0316096199.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg]