Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 13, 2021

The Snow Line, by Tessa McWatt

The Snow Line by Canadian author Tessa McWatt, is more of a meditation on culture, identity and ageing than a plot-driven novel, though the conclusion may leave some readers in tears even though it’s not an unexpected ending. This is the blurb:

Old and young. White and brown. Male and female. British. Indian. Other.

Four strangers from around the world arrive in India for a wedding. Together, they climb a mountain — but will they see the same thing from the top?

Londoner Reema, who left India before she could speak, is searching for a sign that will help her make a life-changing decision. In pensioner Jackson’s suitcase is something he must let go of, but is he strong enough?

Together with two unlikely companions, they take a road trip up a mountain deep in the Himalayas, heading for the snow line — the place where the ice begins.

But even standing in the same place, surrounded by magnificent views, they see things differently. As they ascend higher and higher, they must learn to cross the lines that divide them.

The first thing I noticed when I strayed to Goodreads to copy the blurb is that the Canadian blurb is entirely different.  It labels the book a King Lear story for brown girls, which baffles me because the only thing it has in common with Shakespeare’s play is that it features an old man brought low.  But Jackson is not brought low by the betrayal, ambition or jealousy of those who ought to love him; it’s his ageing body that fails him.  So if anyone who has a different interpretation of King Lear can make sense of this claim for me, I’ll be very interested!

Brought together by Jyoti and Aditya’s wedding (which enables an incisive commentary on caste and class in modern India), Reema from London and Yosh the yogi from Vancouver dislike the extravagance. Monica from Toronto is content to take photos of her tourist experience, though she’s anxious that her family should not find out that she’s not The Great Success that is expected of those who migrate.  She is not the only one with identity and belonging issues arising from migration and transcending the caste system that still apparently persists in a not-so-subterranean way in India.  In Canada, Yosh avoids Indians who will be able to detect that his family, now worth millions in US dollars, was once considered Untouchable.  Reema’s father in London has rejected his birthright and become profoundly anti-Indian and determinedly British.  He sends her press clippings about Indian atrocities against women.  She has a Scottish boyfriend who doesn’t understand why she dislikes Kipling. She is wrestling with the contradictions of a potentially lucrative, career in western music and her discovery of the intricacies of Indian music. Reema is just not in the mood for a wedding!

To make things worse, she finds herself lumbered by Jackson, a Brit in his 80s.  Having worked as an engineer around the world, including on the dam that displaced Reema’s family, he has used this trip to attend the wedding of an old business acquaintance as a catalyst for him to find a resting place for his wife’s ashes.  The young guests cut him no slack when he makes one of many post-Independence faux pas, they have him pegged as a colonialist and Reema has to remind them that it is an Indian value to show respect to elders.  He is determined to be independent but he is deluding himself with memories of how fit he and his wife used to be.  He’s also struggling with the realisation that he didn’t know her well enough to know where she would have liked her ashes to be.

When he decides that he wants to inter the ashes above the snow line of the title, he is tagging along where he is not wanted, inadvertently sabotaging potential romance and causing resentment that just like in the old days the British are getting what they want at the expense of others.

McWatt is a deft and perceptive author and I’d love to quote a passage or two, but that’s a bit beyond me while I’m one-handed!  So the best thing to do is get a copy and read it for yourself…

Author: Tessa McWatt
Title: The Snow Line
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2021
ISBN:9781925849028, pbk., 238 pages
Review copy courtesy of Scribe Publications


Responses

  1. I like the sounds of this one. On the list? Hope you are feeling a bit better each day. I do like Canadian writers. Their similarities and differences being a settler country like Australia.

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    • Thanks, your feedback makes the effort worthwhile *smile*
      I’ve had a CT scan which shows I may have done more than just break a bone, I’m having an MRI on Thursday.
      But I’ve had a proper splint made which is more comfortable and I’ve got some finger exercises to do which will be better once the swelling goes down.
      So it’s a work in progress.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so impressed by your indomitable spirit, Lisa, and determination to continue posting, typing with your ‘wrong’ hand. Hope the scan doesn’t bring bad news, and that you heal well and quickly.

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    • Thanks Simon… I’m finding it much easier now that I have a wireless mouse. I don’t know why I didn’t get one years ago!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was sent a copy of this and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. McWatt is such a thoughtful and bookish writer; I’ve got a pitch out which would create a lovely excuse for me to read through her backlist and I’m hopeful. Be well and good luck with the tech experiments. If voice recognition is proving frustrating, I wonder if using swipe alphabet on your smart phone would be useful? (It lets you slide your finger between letters and then the phone anticipates what you’re going to type, a list of words appearing above which you can select with a single tap, or you can simply continue to swish along with your finger) would be less strenuous than tapping tapping all along. Don’t answer! Hee hee

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    • There’s no doubt that the phone’s predictive text is amazing, but how would I get what’s on the phone into the blog?
      I find the WP app very frustrating…

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