What does it mean to be a person? Especially one living today? Those are just some of the thoughts that accompanied me as I began reading Lieke Marsman’s The Opposite Of A Person. The riveting debut novel left me not just with answers, but with an exhilarating, introspective experience. A Daunt Books release, translated masterfully from Dutch to English by Sophie Collins, The Opposite Of A Person is a remarkable exercise in laying bare for the reader the world that they inhabit and making them examine their own place in it.
The book’s protagonist, Ida, is a climate scientist. When we meet her, she has just entered a relationship with her girlfriend, Robin, and is looking forward to an upcoming internship that would require her to move to the Italian Alps. Through Ida, Lieke employs a narrator (although she is not always the narrator), who is perceptive, honest and delightfully witty. Ida’s concerns are many. From the climate crisis to identity crisis, she acquaints us with them, not just briefly, but with long deliberations. These delib- erations, akin to essays, are enlightening and inspiring. As she discusses these issues, she routinely cites insight- ful writers and their works, immeasurably elevating the discourse. Coupled with memorable witty remarks, that would remain with you for a long while, Ida’s narratorial prowess is unparalleled. She is at once captivating, profound and relatable.
The narrative is a composite mass of poems and various forms of prose. It progresses in fragments, and each fragment has the potential to be a whole in itself. This fragmentation is reflective of many things — the protagonist, her thoughts, our world, and us. You realise soon that language in itself is an important concern of this book. For instance, at many points, Ida proves to be a self-reflexive narrator. Moreover, while Lieke’s poetic inventions are astounding, which is not surprising given that she is the current Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, the prose, and its varied use, is equally extraordinary.
Right now, in this moment, as I write this review, many wars are being waged around the world, young girls are being denied education, our planet is on the brink of irreversible climate catastrophe, effects of which can be seen in how hot spring has felt in New Delhi, there is a new variant of a virus behind a pandemic that is now two years old. And there are many, many other things that plague our consciousness and sub-consciousness, constantly affecting who we become in a moment. In the book, from atomic bombs to global warming, lesbian identity to religion, geocentrism to egocentrism, Lieke endeavours to shed a spotlight on pretty much everything that has a place in the making of who we are today and how we need to take action in order to make sure that the future is better. That the future us, are better.
The Opposite Of A Person is truly a book that reflects its context brilliantly and ingeniously. Lieke Marsman is a literary voice worth your attention and time, one whose work should be read and relished eternally.
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Text Nidhi Verma