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Unpacking the suitcase of identity

A search for home across continents
07:50 AM Jun 27, 2024 IST | Faisul Yaseen
unpacking the suitcase of identity

 Book Review


Title: Bird Milk and Mosquito Bones: A Memoir


Author: Priyanka Mattoo


Publisher: Penguin Random House India


Writer and former Hollywood producer Priyanka Mattoo’s debut memoir, ‘Bird Milk and Mosquito Bones’ (Chhari Daud Te Mahe Adij), is an emotional reading on identity, resilience, and the search for belonging.


This is an engaging story in which she whisks her readers through a rollercoaster ride of emotions, right from her blissful childhood in Kashmir to her nomadic escapades across continents and finally settling in Los Angeles.


Mattoo, who writes for The New York Times and The New Yorker and is a recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship, mixes humour and sagacity with real storytelling, tackling displacement, cultural heritage, family dynamics, and deep residues that personal strength leaves.


Her memoir opens with nostalgic reminiscences of her childhood in Kashmir, which she describes as beautiful land, rich in cultural traditions. Yet, in this serene landscape, the violence in 1989 pushed her family into a panic flight to begin a journey of constant movements and readjustments.

From Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom, Rome in Italy, and finally settling in Los Angeles in the United States, Mattoo vividly paints the struggles and triumphs of a life that straddles borders.

At the very heart of this sober memoir lies a detailed exploration by Mattoo of displacement and the profound effects it has had on her idea of self.

With sentiments, she narrates moving personal anecdotes and stories of introspection about the enduring pain of loss of her ancestral home in Kashmir and struggling to hold fast to her cultural legacy from afar while leading diasporic lives.

It is not a journey in the physical sense, but of emotional and spiritual mooring amidst life’s kaleidoscopic movement.

She writes lyrically and razor-sharply, with a feel for each place encountered that is highly detail-oriented, even as it plumbs emotional depths poignantly.

Whether about the expatriate compounds of Saudi Arabia, resonant with family warmth and chaos, or ancient Rome’s richness, the way Mattoo pens her memoir easily whisks readers across oceans and time.

The memoir vividly illuminates Mattoo’s relationships, particularly her telling about family dynamics and instances pertaining to the near-impossible test of an intercultural marriage.

From her grandparents’ move to Delhi to her own experiences dealing with love and commitment in a multicultural context, Mattoo renders an honest and compassionate exploration of the ties that bind us together.

Above all, ‘Bird Milk and Mosquito Bones’ is a tribute to resilience and adjustment.

Mattoo responds with humour and warmth. Her narrative is steeped in a sense of hope and optimism, despite her experiences of profound loss and uncertainty.

The memoir has gained wide acclaim among readers and critics.

Best-selling authors Reese Okyong Kwon and Jami Attenberg praised Mattoo's writing as both emotionally profound and rich in storytelling.

Publishers Weekly praises its "sharp wit and beating heart"; Booklist, its exploration of the "preciousness of rare things easily lost."

Throughout ‘Bird Milk and Mosquito Bones’, Mattoo intersperses reminiscences and musings that linger well beyond the last page.

Her memoir isn't only her personal story; it's a universal exploration of searching for home and identity in an ever-changing world.

‘Bird Milk and Mosquito Bones’ is a well-written memoir that takes readers through a personal journey of displacement, resilience, and unbroken bonds of family and heritage. It doubtlessly comes out in powerful rising crescendos of Mattoo's storytelling to show how stories can heal and light up vague areas vis-à-vis being an immigrant and the universal yearning for finding a place belonging to us.

This memoir is a river into which one dives for wisdom and insight, and the trip is simply worth making by any reader who has ever been lost in his or her desires for a place where he or she belongs.