Choose a line from a book – you can grab the nearest one and flip it open to a page, or pick an old favourite you’ve memorised… Whatever grabs your attention; whatever intrigues. Use it as the opening sentence for today’s journal entry and let the words flow – Erin Khar #TheIsolationJournals
This book… this entire book is a poem. Every phrase has deliberately worked its way through my veins. Small shocks to the system. Roy breaks the rules of language just enough to create the dissonance necessary to lessen the distance between author and reader. When I read this as a teenager, I didn’t know you could wield language like that.
She writes things like: “Rahel looked around her and saw that she was in a Play. But she had only a small part. She was just the landscape. A flower perhaps. Or a tree. A face in the crowd. A Townspeople.” (Roy, 164)
And: “‘Later. Not now.’ And Later became a horrible, menacing, goose-bumpy word. Lay. Ter. Like a deep-sounding bell in a mossy well. Shivery, and furred. Like moth’s feet.” (Roy, 139).
And: “That expression on Ammu’s face. Like a rogue piece of a puzzle. Like a question mark that drifted through the pages of a book and never settled at the end of a sentence.” (Roy, 69).
I read this book at the Right Time. I was in my final year of high school, clumsily grappling with a few of life’s biggest and most ancient questions with just enough arrogance to think that I was getting close to real answers. This is a book about those ancient questions, but it’s also about family, homecoming, loss, race, and the immediate, terrifying, and tangible power of history.
My copy (pages worn and soft from being carried over years and oceans) is littered with Teenage Sophia’s pencilled marginalia, earnest underlines, and impromptu bookmarks. For this exercise, I opened to a page at random and picked the first underlined fragment I saw; the graphite carefully tracing the length of the sentence before darting back to doubly emphasise the last five words: “It is after all so easy to shatter a story.” (Roy, 181).
It is after all so easy to shatter a story.
It’s interesting to think of stories like that: like fragile breakable things to be handled with some sort of care as they are passed from hand to hand, from mouth to ear. I wonder, are they even meant to be kept whole?
Are we not meant to grasp them tightly until they splinter and leave little scars? Are we not meant to piece them back together with the material and scraps that our own lives have given us to create something new, something we and the author have made together?
Sometimes we break off a piece on purpose and tuck it into our pocket, little sentences or phrases becoming artefacts in a museum: made somehow more valuable to us in spite of the loss of their original context.
I collect these fragments with a kind of goblin-like greed (a treasure hunter instead of a trained archaeologist), scribbling them down in a notebook with scratchy handwriting and minimal citation. Sometimes they are a fragmented shard of a phrase, other times (if I’m lucky), a somewhat recognisable paragraph. But always they break off with sharp edges, making impressions.
There are some pieces of stories that have rolled off so many tongues they seem to have lost some of their sharp edges. Like toes on a statue or stones in a river. (Much of what my beloved Hamlet has to say come to mind.) But careful, I have the battle scars to prove that Shakespeare is far from defanged.
I think the best stories fracture and leave us with scars. To handle a story with spine unbroken, pages smooth and unfolded, I think is a loss. We should be palimpsests of the stories we encounter. We should crush them to our chests and see what fragments stick, scribble in the margins to see what parts of ourselves are lost back into the ink and pages.
Perhaps stories, like us, are made to be broken and remade. After all, it is so easy to shatter one.
About Sophia Mirashrafi
I am an Oregonian living in Scotland. I am partial to reading stories of varying objective quality, oat milk in coffee, and evening runs. I collect and hoard copies of Jane Eyre. I have an MA in Medieval History and Archaeology from University of St Andrews and an MSc in Digital Heritage from the University of York. I now get paid to make digital models of Scotland’s sites and artefacts and use them to tell new stories about the past. My twitter is here if you’re interested in that kind of thing: https://twitter.com/ssmirash.