Book Review: The Way Things Look to Me

FC9780312577896 Roopa Farooki’s The Way Things Look to Me is a wonderful novel about three British Asian siblings — Asif, Yasmin and Lila — and the effect that Yasmin’s Asperger’s syndrome has on all of their lives/

First we have Asif Declan Kalil Murphy, whose name carries the mixed heritage of his Irish father and South Asian mother. At the young age of 18, Asif becomes, suddenly and sadly, the head of the family when his mother dies of an undetected heart condition, following her husband in death. Asif, abandoning postgraduate plans at Cambridge, moves home to take responsibility for Yasmin, thereby sacrificing forever, or so he thinks, his future. Arriving home on a Friday evening, “He imagines this is what single mothers feel like. He realizes uncomfortably that he would rather be anywhere but here…Asif is left to do the looking after, and the coping, and the caring; as he has his whole life, especially now that his parents are dead.”

Next we meet Yasmin, convincingly draw by Farooki as a young woman with above average intelligence and Asperger’s syndrome, both of which leave her struggling to connect with the people around her. She copes by keeping strict routines and using strategies designed by her now dead mother to try to respond correctly. Greeting her brother, Farooki writes, “After Yasmin has held his gaze for a count of Mississippi One Mississippi Two, just as her mother taught her to do, she takes the plates out of the drying rack and puts them back in the sink, to wash up all over again.”

Lila is the fierce youngest daughter, gorgeous and perfectly made up, a guise she maintains to hide debilitating eczema. Where Asif is the good son, Lila is the bad girl, the angry one, art school drop out, serial dater and seemingly directionless. Her entire life has been dominated by her anger at losing her mother at an early age not to death but to Yasmin’s Asperger’s. She can be viscous to everyone around her, especially her sister, whom she has resented since Yasmin was a baby. Farooki writes, “He and Lila realized then, with childish despondency and adult resignation, at the tender ages of six and five, that crybaby, tantrum-throwing, head-banging Yasmin had stolen their mother and that they were never going to get her back. And the small tragedy was that they were right.”

Farooki sets up the story and the characters in a wonderful and convincing way exploring the anger, guilt and resentment that can bind a family, especially one in which a sibling’s disability takes center stage. Not only does she demonstrate what life can be like for the other siblings, both the dutiful and the resentful, but she also gives us, through Yasmin, a window into Asperger’s and how it also confounds the person who has it as well as those around her. I enjoyed this story, although I was a little disappointed by the too tidy ending, especially for Lila and Asif. Not wanting to spoil the story, I won’t say more there. Farooki is a great writer and this is a book well worth reading.

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