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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

When Abba Was Ill by Adil Hasan

When Abba was Ill by Adil Hasan is a book about death.

It starts off with a quote by Epicurus.

Why should I fear death?
If I am, death is not,
If death is, I am not.
Why should I fear
that which can not exist
when I do.

So it's a book about death, the finality of death, but also about love and the struggle between life and death as it happens in front of Hassan's eyes. It's a beautiful book that comes in modest form and tackles a less photographed side of death in most undramatic form; what does it mean to die, what does it mean to see a loved one die.

It's his father, Mohammed Hassan, who's dying. He's got cancer and Hassan is photographing it, using his old film cameras as a distraction from the heartbreaking reality.

The pictures look like they're made on film, and they look as though Hassan isn't quite used to it.But he's not used to anything that is happening so it fits. The pictures are blurry, but in an artless way that mirrors the bewilderment that he must be feeling as his father's illness progresses. They're not beautiful or noisy or even quiet. They're more of a coming to terms with things, a negotiation.

There are views from the window of the home where his family live, all concrete stairs and dusty courtyards with leaves brushing down. There are hospitals interiors, and pictures of his family sitting and waiting, waiting and sitting, his mother in particular. There are exteriors too, views of the Tata steel works in Jamshedpur where Hasan Senior used to work. And there are key moments - his mother and father at the end of a hospital corridor, looking out of a window, their backs to Hasan, then walking back towards him.

India outside the hospital and home is run down and rainy. When it's monsoon season, the vistas are grey and unloved. The interiors have a functional air to them too, especially as Hasan's father moves from marital bed to hospital bed and back again. People visit, the family is in attendance, the father gets thinner. And sicker. And older. He's dying.

He gets weaker and the steel factory comes to life, its bright lights, searing flames, and white smoke rising above the debris of the city beyond its walls. And then its over, and the smoke drifts away and a blurry light is all that remains. Except for those who start the same process all over again, Life goes on and people live and people die, and there are those who are caught in between. That's what this book is about.

The book ends with another quote.

it's time to go home
we have wandered enough
in empty buildings

Buy When Abba was Ill here

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