Book Review: Snowfed Waters by Jane Wilson-Howarth
By Nilesh Mondal
Title: Snowfed Waters
Author: Jane Wilson-Howarth
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: ₹ 360
The story of finding one’s true passion and sense of purpose through confrontations with hardships has become a trope per se. One can even say it has been overdone, although new variations crop up every year, driving home profound life lessons. However, despite their often clichéd premise or plot, some stories still manage to deliver a heart-touching performance in terms of fully sketched characters and a sense of anxiety through a gripping story which serves us with a steady sense of exhilaration when we finally see the protagonist come out of all trials, injured but wiser. That in a nutshell is why Snowfed Waters works well despite its shortcomings.
Sonia, the protagonist of this fictional travelogue, is a woman who has lost a significant part of what she assumed to be her regular life in light of recent events. Estranged from her husband, wrecked with debilitating anxiety and unsure of what to do with her life, she embarks on an expedition to Nepal under the pretext of helping with teaching duties in local schools. With this trip she hopes to regain emotional stability in her turbulent life and heal herself. Although off to a rocky start, she soon adjusts well to the situations and surroundings, and as she slowly learns to fight off the ghosts of her past, she also becomes a part of the local people and their community. There are moments of endearing sincerity throughout the story, which, along with moments of suspense and sadness, create a fine balance of emotions which the reader feels almost as clearly as the protagonist herself. The end, although sweet and hopeful, shows Sonia clearly as someone who has had a change of heart, and we can’t help but be happy for her.
There are some obvious problems with the pacing in this book. While some chapters are rushed and leap through long stretches of time at one go, a few are really slow, and at times clutter up the narration with unnecessary details. However, these problems are mostly present in the first half of the book; the second half maintains a more or less constant pace. Since this story has been narrated by different characters, there are repetitions in descriptions as well as moments of confusion which necessitate extra careful and thorough reading.
However, the strength of this book lies in the way each character is given time and space to build up. Characters in this book have depth and complexity, and their perspective of the world they live in is clearly explained through conversations and the way they interact with others. For example, the protagonist, Sonia, starts off as a timid and out-of-place foreigner who tries to battle her own past trauma; however, by the end of the story, she grows into a strong and independent woman. Similarly, the people living in the small Nepali village undergo a radical transformation throughout the story arc, becoming names we root for with all our heart. The social and economic divisions existing in their society, as well as their initial reluctance to welcome a stranger in their midst, which gradually changes into warmth and kindness, is beautifully portrayed.
The attention to details is commendable, as the author unfolds the landscape for us through stark and honest use of imagery. Her voice is powerful and passionate, and lends much to the story’s overall themes of people growing stronger through hardships and determination to get through it all.
Snowfed Waters is a tribute to the indomitable human spirit and to the human ability to love and bond with strangers over shared tragedies. Thus tragedy doesn’t remain a villain but becomes something that unites people belonging to different places, culture and languages. In today’s world, this is a lesson we all need to imbibe in ourselves, and that is the reason this book is important, something every reader can relate to.
The reviewer is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Power Engineering. When he’s not overwhelmed by the intricacies of engineering, he lets himself sink in a quagmire of unfinished stories and unwritten poetry.