Samiksha Ransom reviews My World Without Jehan: Surviving a Brother’s Suicide by Liana Mistry (Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2023)
Trigger Warning: Suicide
My World Without Jehan: Surviving a Brother’s Suicide is a deeply uncomfortable memoir by Liana Mistry in which she recounts her life against the backdrop of the suicide of her older brother, Jehan. As the title suggests, Jehan’s passing becomes the axis around which Liana’s life spins, as she categorically views it in white and black: before and after Jehan’s suicide.
Liana’s family is a Parsi family of five – her parents, two older brothers, and her. The family shifts homes and temporarily settles wherever her father’s business takes them. Life on the beach, frequent parties, turtle walks with friends and love interests, and yacht rides characterise the lives of the members of this family, well at least in part. The other part is not so vibrant. It is fraught with the horrendous anticipation-anxiety that after three unsuccessful suicide attempts, Jehan will someday succeed. That day could be any day. Mistry writes with brutal honesty, “He’s going to try again tomorrow. Please let him just do it and get it over with.”
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Life and Death
The night Liana goes for her first turtle walk is the day when Jehan makes his first attempt at suicide. Thereafter Liana’s life morphs into a flat note. No music surfaces and no light comes in. She finds herself in tremendous pain but is prevented from grieving – nobody in her family likes to talk about it. She finds herself going on the turtle walk despite Jehan’s death. In her family, nobody grieves openly or mentions Jehan. Have they forgotten him? Her eldest brother Fali’s wedding takes place well within a year of Jehan’s death, and when she visits Fali and his wife, she sneaks around the house searching for some sign of Jehan’s memory.
In the coming days, everything, even her own thoughts conspire to choke Liana. Her family’s silence on the matter, her guilt for not alerting anybody after seeing Jehan’s poem hinting at suicide, and her anger towards her friends and boyfriend who allegedly made fun of Jehan, gnaw at her, and locked her in horrible isolation. She refuses to speak to her friends and silently cuts off ties with her boyfriend, while at the same time worrying that breaking off with her boyfriend would erase Jehan’s memory. What she overlooks, however, is that Jehan’s words could never be completely trusted anyway, and he had demons of his own to battle.
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The pain of Jehan’s suicide and her inability to openly grieve, colours her lens for years, something she projects even on her husband and children. Until one day she finally decides to open up and talk about Jehan. In the memoir, Mistry admits that while there is nothing wrong in holding the pain in, she has chosen the other path, one where she opens it up and lays it bare before whoever will see it, and ultimately, writes about it. In doing so Mistry opens up a door, not just for herself, but also for her audience by encouraging them to grieve openly and fully because there is no escape from grief, until one acknowledges and cradles it.
Liana Mistry’s Story of Survival
My World Without Jehan is a book about loss, mental illness, grief, healing, and coming of age. It also gives an insight into the world of the 80s where even a modern, liberal family like Liana’s finds topics like mental illness and homosexuality taboo. At the same time, this book is a testament to love, healing, community, and friendship. The reader gets to peek into the life and relationships of a Parsi family in the 80’s and understands the beautiful relationship dynamics within and outside of the community, that are a delight to witness.
There are plenty of moments in the book that will break your heart, and where you will breathe and just take in Liana’s pain, before resuming. These are important because it is in these moments that the reader gets to share not just Liana’s pain, but also the pain of the rest of the family and of course, Jehan. A writer with grit and courage, Liana Mistry’s My World Without Jehan is a must-read for anyone who has ever lost a loved one to suicide, death, or other milder forms of brutality and experienced the pain of separation.
This healing is a soul-wrenching experience and a life-changing one. Painful, and in its own way, as overwhelming as any other experience we have known. But it comes to each of us, through unlikely agencies and surprising forms. To some, it comes early. Others wait a lifetime. It’s a matter of recognizing it. Letting it in. Letting go of the addiction that grief can become.
Have you read this poignant tale of healing? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!