I knew most of the story in Summer Love before I picked it up. When a book has been paraded through social media as much as this one has, you can only avoid it for so long. A friend of mine (who also happens to be a heavy smoker with a troubled love-life) recommended it to me so I started reading with a feeling that perhaps it wouldn’t impress me as much as it did him.
The story in Summer Love is nothing new- boy, girl, love. The boy, Atit Sharma, and the girl, Saya Shakya, are both enrolled in the same Masters degree course, where they meet, talk and fall in love with nothing to report. Atit, one day, confesses his love to her when they are on the way back from college. Saya says she will think about it. She says she will consider whether or not to reciprocate this man’s love for her(!) There are various factors at play here- Saya is an overachiever, comes from a very well-off but conservative Newar family and has reservations about whether he is the right man for her; we can understand her hesitancy. She does redeem herself in the evening, somewhat, when she decides that he shouldn’t have to spend an entire night in agony contemplating her response. She calls him and says “yes”, as expected. (Ignore Atit’s obvious joy for a while and notice, reader, how ‘yes’ is not a sensible response to ‘I love you.’ )
The story winds slowly. Times are good, they fall deeper into the bottomless pit of love. Both of them are presented as ordinary people hopelessly in love. Atit is a chainsmoker and your usual overthinker, who sometimes is awed by the fact that such a smart, young woman such as Saya should love him back. And she is that. She is smart, excels in academics and knows how to have fun. We see them shuffle through the country, go through the usual motions of being in love (which might be considered cute) and read about them making love with some discomfort- on our part, not because sex is still something not openly talked about in our part of the world, but because these sequences could have been written much better. The writer is at fault here and not our culture.
Once you get to the middle of the book, it is a love you want to last. Alas, circumstances aren’t that kind. A story that starts in Balkhu ends, drenched in sorrow, in Norway. (Or does it? The book has a sequel too.) From what I could gather from the book, Norway is cold and people there travel on trains a lot.
There are many other subjects touched upon, with some skill, besides young love- utter disregard of family, depression, unanswered questions, questionable decisions and friendship, to name a few. The supporting cast also does its job very well. But there is still room for improvement. Summer Love has a laboured start. There are times when you almost want them to fall in love already and get on with it, for the story’s sake. There are times when the imagery fails to translate and just falls flat. There is some clunky prose – Saya le banayeko note hola ni, upalabdha garaa na yar. I cringed. The writer also provides us with details that could, or probably should, have been spared- Godrej ko daraaj, Philips ko monitor etc. But the narrative, overall, has a nice flow to it, even taking into account the sub-par beginning. In Richa Bhattarai’s review, there were allegations of misogyny levelled at the book. It is a shame that they are not unjustifiable. The book is littered with instances of not-so-subtle misogyny, and they are hard to overlook.
All in all, Summer Love is an endearing tale. You sympathize with Atit and question Saya’s choices, even though a certain part of you feels she must’ve had her reasons. It is a story of fleeting love between young people who, perhaps, seek more than they could ever hope to achieve. Anyone who reads it will do well not to have some emotional investment in the characters and their eventual fate. There is also a particularly heartbreaking letter/monologue that strips bare the psyche of a tormented lover and showcases the writer’s skill. Subin Bhattarai has done a commendable job. This book does not break new grounds in terms of content or storytelling, but it stays in your heart and you will think about it afterwards. In an age of bland and predictable love-stories, Summer Love shines and it is apparent why it has impressed the youth.
Summer Love book image from Yes Kantipur