Book Review – Letters To Ammi

Akshaya Mohan interned with us at Karadi Tales for two months. This is her review of our latest release, Letters to Ammi.

Letters to Ammi

Letters to Ammi is an epistolary picture book written by Aftab Yusuf Shaikh, generously interspersed with photographs by Adrija Ghosh and Soumitra Ranade, and drawings by Aparna Trikkur.

The plot follows a young girl (Fatima) visiting her uncle and aunt in Delhi, who take her to tour some of the most famous places in the historic city. The story is told in parts as Fatima visits a monument and writes a letter to her mother (whom she addresses as Ammi), revealing details as she goes about herself, her ancestors, and the lives of her parents. Each stop on the tour is a place that Fatima can associate with her mother’s life and experiences- the last of which is the graveyard where Ammi is buried.

I found the plot fascinating, but what I liked more was the writing that described every significant place in Delhi with close attention to the unique personality that each had. With each letter composed in a different part of the city, the facets of the personalities of both Fatima and her mother are also brought to light.

Fatima is old enough to understand the concept of loss but young enough for a subtext to run throughout the text- is death reversible? Is it something that can be revoked through memories and the reconstruction of the spirit of her mother through physical spaces that she used to occupy? The narrative turns the concept of “life” into a fluid and abstract idea- Fatima feels closer to her mother in these physical spaces but is again brought back to the physical reality of death when she realizes that she cannot show her mother affection by, say, hugging her, or having a conversation with her rather than just telling her about each day. The seemingly simple story brought to light the pain of trying to interact with the memory of a person.

The enmeshed pictures and illustrations contribute to this notion. When Fatima goes to the places where she believes she can find traces of her mother, the reality of physical death (photographs) blends with the dream-like image of her mother (illustrations), and it is only when they are combined that she is able to form a complete impression of her surroundings.

While the story might resonate better with slightly older kids who can grasp the complexities of multiple narratives, I wouldn’t assign the book to a particular age range.  We interact with life and death on multiple unconscious levels, and while the little girl gives life to the words and present story, her mother lends her life to the places she visits and the past that colours it all.