Book Review: Gargi Bhattacharyya’s ‘We, the Heartbroken’

‘This is a good-sized book!’ was my first impression of We, The Heartbroken when I unleashed it out of its packaging. ‘I’m so glad it comes with a playlist!’ was my second impression, and ‘This language is accessible to my neurodiverse, simplicity-craving brain. Thank you!’, was my third.

In We, the Heartbroken, Gargi Bhattacharyya opens a dialogue over our collective heartbreak. Specifically, the heartbreak within a world where creating space for pain is considered an act of weakness. The events of the pandemic have played an important role in creating further recognition of the divisional aspects of racial capitalism, and such divisions within systems have encouraged divisions within our own psyches, separating us into the resilient/weak, the competent/incompetent, the skilled/unskilled, the grieving/non-grieving. Gargi encourages a removal of these conceptual lines and dives into the bold truth of our collective sorrow. Of course,  it is in allowing ourselves to experience a multiplicity of feelings that we can even begin to dive into something as real as grief.

Before I begin to make this book sound like a melancholic sigh, I must admit to the many laughs I encountered as I made my way through the prose. Some of my most madman laughs, giddy laughs, classic snort laughs, and of course, some this-feels-so-real-to-my-own-pain-that-all-I-can-do-is-laugh laughs. It was as if suddenly all of this knowledge which I thought I kept secret wasn’t a secret anymore, and what a relief that was.

Gargi introduces the book with the reasonable argument that the growth of a better world relies on building communities alongside the acknowledgement of our grief. Various psychological techniques which aim to regulate grief tend to practice an idealisation of achieving a “goal”. The goal here refers to the simple wish that you can deal with your grief and be healed forever. Gargi challenges these practices and argues that merely recognising our own heartbreak as a part of ourselves can create the foundation we need for true human connection.

“Heartbreak is the unhappy knowledge that there is nothing special, nothing special at all, about our individual grief. But it is also an understanding that none of us have anything to prove” (Pg 4)

Books grant a process of escapism from our own stories. We don’t want to think about our own pain, so we step into someone else’s. I believe that sometimes, we practice escapism to attempt to come back to ourselves. As if with every book we read, we inch closer and closer to what is real within.

Gargi occupies the no man’s land between the boundary of escapism and reality, embracing the nature of push-and-pull between the two. You step out of yourself only to find that there’s more of you in someone else, and everyone else. I found it to be quite cathartic. I read this book in the aftermath of recovering from nicotine addiction, coming out to my brown mother as trans, and the passing of a friend. Like the Judy Garland song in the provided playlist, I believe this book found me “Just in Time”.

“A grieving human might be the most clownish thing on earth.” (Pg 20)

Gargi strolls through the manifestations of grief in sections of Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing and Acceptance, while reminding us that the process of grief is not a linear journey, and the stages are rather a breakdown of the experience which helps simplify as much as possible.

The play of mythology, folklore, ghost stories, and other forms of lore within the book was a happy surprise. Kali for shock, Persephone for bargaining, Rapunzel for depression, each section brings a special character appearance. I was raised on stories from Hindu mythology, and I found solace within Greek mythology as a teenager, so I experienced the usage of lore as quite soothing. As the writer, Gargi occasionally also plays the role of a character within their essays, which is where I found that the connection between the reader and the author truly solidified.

Whether it’s a conscious or an unconscious craving, the need for community and connection lies within human yearning. Gargi honours this need in their language, as they communicate the reality of pain on a cushion of compassion. While you read, you can’t help but unwrap bandages of forgotten wounds, stare at the infected, ugly pus, the dried-up blood, and say ‘It’s okay that you are here.’

Gargi leads the conclusion with the simple notion of heartbreak as the class consciousness of racial capitalism. Once I completed this book, I found myself with not as much of a review but rather the one thing this prose invokes within the reader: a response.

I had my initial doubts about this book posing as self-help. The non-fiction genre covering grief is saturated with self-help “techniques” of moving on from your grief, or inspirational stories of people with arbitrary experiences of sorrow. We, the Heartbroken is neither an instruction nor is it an inspiration. It’s simply dialogue, a suggestion, a mere prompt. Gargi gracefully prompts the reader to stare at heartbreak, if not your own then someone else’s, if not someone else’s then the collective aspect of heartbreak, if not the collective aspect of heartbreak, then just to take a proper look at your own heart.

Heartbreak pushes us down a crossroads where we get stuck in a contradiction: one where what we need does not align with what we want. What we need is to keep moving forward, to honour our perceived flow of the finite time we hold. However, what we want is to stay completely still, to stare at our own demolishment in complete horror. Gargi somehow achieves a balance within this contradiction, until the needs and wants merge into one; until the hesitation of accepting heartbreak becomes a trusty companion to move forward with.

We, the Heartbroken by Gargi Bhattacharyya can be bought here (£12.50 paperback/£7.50 ebook).

Nadheem is a poet based in Cardiff who immensely appreciates the power of community in art. They like to spend their time on Earth through writing, painting, and experimenting with other forms of creativity. They also enjoy the habitual chat about existentialism and the South Asian diaspora.

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