The Last Song of Dusk – Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi: Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi | Genre: Historical Fiction | Pages: 304 | Publisher: Penguin India

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When the astonishingly lovely Anuradha moves to Bombay to marry Vardhmaan, a charming young doctor, their life together has all the makings of a fairy tale. But when their firstborn son dies in a terrible accident, tragedy transforms their marriage into a bleak landscape. As the pair starts fresh in a heartbroken old villa by the sea, they are joined by Nandini, a dazzling and devious artist with a trace of leopard blood in her veins. While Nandini flamboyantly takes on Bombay’s art scene, the couple attempts to mend their marriage, eventually discovering that real love, mercurial and many-hued, is given and received in silence.

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Some books tell you stories. Then once in a while comes a book, that shows you one. Like a movie. ‘The Last Song of Dusk’ is a story of loss, of love, of longing, and everything in between. It is written to rip out your heart, and admire it bleeding. It is meant to have melancholy rent a corner in that heart and live there eternally. It defines love in many forms, through stories, through music, through art, through humans, and yet none of that is enough, for love itself is never enough. What then are we looking for, living for, longing for, and rooting for?

What she was really moonstruck about was his knack for telling stories. “My beloved storyteller, she thought. Tell me not this story.”

Anuradha and Vardhamaan are made for each other, it is not just their picture-perfect chemistry but also their life which is the ultimate fairytale one could ask for. And that’s when you know that something’s about to happen, because sure enough tragedy awaits lurking in the corner to strike at the most happiest moment. And it does and how! When the charming couple lose their son, Mohan, the child wonder, their life tumbles into an abyss from where there is no recovering. The songs Anuradha sings, a legacy the Patwardhans inherit, cannot heal her anymore. Vardhmaan’s stories that were the bridge for their love all-pervading is broken to bits. And what ensues is a long silence in the form of separation where both the bleeding hearts try to find solace in a world that seems no place for them.

How lovers alter in the glance of each other, that space where their moods are accepted and their surrender is never taken advantage of.

Dariya Mahal is every bit charming, every bit magical, every bit hypnotic, as it is haunting. And that’s where Vardhamaan takes Anuradha to start their life afresh. Along comes the boisterous and bold, with the blood of leopard in her veins, Nandini, Anuradha’s cousin and an aspiring artist who’s only wish is to climb up the ladder of fame and fast. She can do little to salvage the deteriorating passion between Anuradha and her husband. Together, these characters make a startling platter which is a generous serving of tragedy, humor, wit, magic, class, elegance, and poetry, in fair amounts.

That love and loathing, joy and distress, quietness and noise, all eventually blur and one is left wondering where one started and the other ended.

The prose is as beatific as hounding, as enriching as enthralling, as sensual as shocking, and somewhere between reading and living their lives, you are lost and drowning in their collective tragedies. There, that’s the inordinate talent oozing from the pages, and evocative of the author’s baronial imagination and style. Nothing is lost and yet little’s left within you when finally you emerge from its pages. M K Gandhi and Virginia Woolf make cameos. Anuradha and Vardhamaan will lurk in your reveries long after you’re done. ‘The Last Son of Dusk’ is every bit poetry in prose.

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‘The Last Song of Dusk’ is a dazzling debut, right from its cover to its characters, its plot to its settings, its language to its mood. A masterpiece that does not deserve to be shelved as a debut, but a debut is what it is, and a magical one at that! Pick it up, I couldn’t press enough.

Have you read ‘The Last Song of Dusk’? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem! 

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