4 out of 4 stars
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Insectual: The Secret of the Black Butterfly by Barbara Sala is a book which can be categorized in the Historical fiction genre.
This story traces Maya’s journey which begins in Germany, coinciding with the Second World War. Maya grew up in Bavarian Alps, where the family had fled to escape from the bombing raids. Growing up was a tough experience for Maya, due to the constant tension between her parents which culminated in their divorce. After finishing her education Maya moves to former Belgian Congo as part of a UN mission. There she meets and marries her Italian colleague and gives birth to her two children, in the middle of all the chaos of the Mulele Revolution. The ensuing revolution forces Maya and Lorenzo (her husband) to move to Montreal with their family. Maya’s life has been eventful but there has been an ailment ailing her, gnawing at her subconscious constantly, something that she calls ‘the devil’. This ‘devil’ is now threatening to end her marriage and tear apart her family. Maya undergoes psychotherapy to find out the reason behind this condition and discovers that the answer is hidden in the troubled memories of her childhood. Will she find out the truth that she desperately seeks?
The book is divided into four parts with around seventy chapters in all. All the chapters begin with a dialogue quoted from the chapter, accompanied with an intriguing, often funny, illustration. The illustrations are mostly related to Maya’s fantasies or her dreams. The story is written in first person and starts with Maya’s life in Montreal. The story is written mostly in the form of flashbacks and the author takes the reader back and forth in time, tracing Maya’s journey across three continents. The fantasies and dreams which the author conjures for Maya’s character are quite inventive, with a deeper meaning camouflaged in them. One huge positive of this story is its unpredictability. With every flashback a new facet of Maya’s life comes to fore, changing the direction of the story. There are plenty of metaphors and symbolism used by the author to narrate this tale.
This book is pretty unusual in the sense that though there are some familiar elements like sexual abuse, troubled child psychology due to separation of parents, etc, it doesn’t follow the oft taken route and displays a twisted view of things. At times I was confused whether I should see Maya as a victim of circumstances or a victim of her own mind. Our protagonist, Maya, lives in a dual world caught between reality and the world of her imagination. She desperately wants to save her marriage and give her children a good family life. The other characters in this book are also interesting and not conventional characters made in the familiar mold. One would sympathize and be annoyed with them at the same time.
The author weaves in two important events in history and portrays them through a different lens. Readers who like psychological thrillers coupled with historical content should try this one. This book tells a story which is thought provoking and has a dark tone. I rate it 4 out of 4 stars for its unusual plot and riveting storyline.
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