Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

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June is Mental Health Awareness Month hosted by Leah @ Uncorked Thoughts and Ula @ Blog of Erised. Even though I found out about it a little late, I still wanted to support their efforts and this important cause. June is almost over, but I am pleased that I can include my review of Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto as part of this event.

em and the big hoomPinto has written one masterpiece of a book with Em and the Big Hoom. Set in Mumbai, story revolves around Em, the bipolar mother of our narrator. And I mean the story literally revolves around her. Pinto examines Em’s moods, depression and hospitalizations through each of the members of her family. It shows how mental illness is not a solitary affair, but effects everyone it comes into contact with.

Having a bipolar mother is a heavy issue, especially when she regularly attempts suicide, yet Pinto’s skilled narrative brings enough humor and levity to the situation to save this novel from being depressing. His use of language, especially when put in Em’s mouth, is astounding. Her alliterative rants are amazing and immediately make you fall in love with her. This love of her only deepens as her courtship with Hoom is recounted in the years before their marriage and subsequent illness.

In many ways Em and The Big Hoom has it all: a great story, compelling characters, brilliant use of language and a strong message.

Who would like this book? My everlasting love of South Asian literature is what first drew me to the novel, but the subject matter – mental illness – is what makes it stand apart from most other writing from India and Pakistan. Mental illness is still a taboo topic in much of South Asia. It is not something that is talked about or shared. But Pinto goes to great lengths to break this cycle of silence. For the characters in Em and the Big Hoom Em’s bipolar disorder is just part of their lives, something they have to deal with everyday. In many ways it reminded me of The Isolation Door by Anish Majumdar (review) as both deal with mental health in South Asian families – one in the United States, one in India. The humor of the situation also bears comparison to Where’s You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (review), another novel that deals with the pressure mental illness can exert on a family.

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14 Comments

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  4. How very intriguing. May have to give this a go. I typically avoid books with clearly bipolar characters because I tend to be to critical of subjects I know from work and or experience (which includes brain injury and gender identity along with mental illness). With my own bipolar currently reminding me that even many years of stability can start to show cracks, I am interested to see how the topic is tackled from a South Asian angle. Fits well into my recent South Asian literary diet too.

    Hello from a new follower in Canada who wishes he could spend some time in Scotland.

    • In my experience in South Asia, mental illness is not generally acknowledged as such, so for that reason I think this book is really important. Let’s see how it goes for you. You may also want to check out The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. It is about a Indo-American family in which the father has a brain tumor. Given your work experience you may not want to read it, but I do highly recommend it.

      • Thanks for your response. In practice with brain injury, I have found many Indo-Canadian families interesting to work with, especially post stroke because there is an effort to greatly increase awareness among this community who appear to be at higher risk. I am also interested in Indo-American Akhil Sharma’s Family Life, a novel about his brother’s catastrophic traumatic injury. It is the fad for the “50 First Dates” /”Memento” approach to brain trauma that really gets my goat. People with injuries of that sort typically don’t hold memories for more than 10-15 seconds!

  5. Pingback: Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

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