The Odd Book Of Baby Names

The Odd Book Of Baby Names

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As a thin ribbon of smoke rose from the edge something stirred in me and I slapped the book against the railing until small specks of fire fell to the floor and died down. It was not just a book of baby names. It was an unusual memoir my father was leaving behind, memories condensed into names; memories of many kisses, lovemaking, panting and feeling spent.Can a life be like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces waiting…

In a palace, confined to his bed, lies an old king. As he lies dying, one of his sons searches for a notebook. Emblazoned with the king’s seal on top, this slim notebook contains names. Names that had been written by the king in his own hand. These are the names of his children, legitimate or otherwise. The Odd Book of Baby Names is the story of eight of these children. Only two of them are legitimate. The others all have been born on the wrong side of the blanket. These characters are bound by their common sire, but their circumstances and upbringing are different. Amongst the illegitimate, a few have been acknowledged and provided for. The others languish, carrying the heavy burden of their illegitimacy. As they wait for the king to die, the story of these eight unfolds for the reader.

I first came across The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim when it was longlisted for JCB Prize 2022. Its out-of-the-box name and blurb intrigued me. The couple of reviews that I checked on Goodreads whetted my appetite for the book. The Odd Book of Baby Names turned out to be the surprise read of 2022. Unlike any other book I have read before, it does not belong to any specific genre. Rather than a complete story, the book is vignettes from the individual characters’ lives.

The eight characters ensnare you. They are full of human foibles and emotions as the spectre of their father dying hangs above them. For some of them, their lives intermingle. For others, there are chance encounters, while a few remain oblivious to the existence of their half-siblings. There is pathos, nostalgia and a sprinkling of humour here and there. And yet, there is an underlying melancholy in the book. 

The book is engrossing, with its flowing prose and simple language. And yet, after I finished reading the book, there was a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. I felt as if the story was unfinished. While I know that a complete ending with a book like this is not possible, I keenly felt a lack of closure.

The Odd Book Of Baby Names is a book that pushes the envelope. It creates a world that the reader can imagine, with characters that seem familiar.

~*~

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