Book Review: Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose

March 04, 2020




Themes: Identity, race, first-generation immigrant identity  

Too Much and Not the Mood is a stunning collection of personal essays that are poetic, observant and relatable. The collection interacts with themes of racism, gender and identity

After beginning and failing to read the collection a few times when tired and unfocused, I eventually devoured Too Much and Not the Mood in a couple of days, cocooning myself in Chew-Bose's poetic, slow language. This is a collection to luxuriate in, rather than one to dip in to. Devote time to this collection; submerge yourself in the language, the images Chew-Bose so beautifully evokes. Set aside a weekend, a glass of wine and a balcony chair – it's that kind of book, one that warrants savouring. This collection will slow you down, inspire you, re-ignite your love of literature and re-open your eyes to your surroundings whilst making you consider existence, identity, society, family and generation. 

The collection seamlessly mixes cultural criticism and personal essay, in a book that feels like a memoir; Chew-Bose reflects on her childhood, familial relationships and her sense of self as she approaches age 30, whilst considering larger social issues. The essay As In highlights the racial bias inherent in the mispronunciation of names and the outright but unchallenged racism in somebody asking ‘where are you from?’ in response to a name they perceive to be uncommon. Chew-Bose interrogates the self-erasure that takes places when individuals allow others to pronounce an ‘easier’ or all-together incorrect version of their name. Tan Lines confronts racial bias and ignorance again, as Chew-Bose, whose parents emigrated from India to Canada, details her experiences of white friends commenting on the types of colours she should wear because of her brown skin and saying “I’m almost as brown as you” after sun-bathing. 

At times, such as in the opening and longest essay Heart Museum, the writing is like a stream-of-consciousness as Chew-Bose glides through a myriad of topics, from the emoji on her phone that she assumes is a heart hospital, through things that give her a mild fright, to observations on introversion, or as Chew-Bose terms it, being a ‘nook person’. Nook people “seek corners”, “don’t mind waiting in the car”, “value a deep pants pocket” and “see a baby, burrito-wrapped in her blanket, and think, Now, wouldn’t that be nice?" But the stream is controlled, intentional and always flows back to the essay theme. The opening essay ends with Chew-Bose's being dropped off by a rickshaw driver in Mumbai, to visit a family friend in the “heart museum”, the translation of “heart hospital” having been lost.  

If you notice the small beauty in the everyday, you’ll find a kindred spirit in Chew-Bose, whose gentle and tender observations you’ll love and relate to. Her cultural criticism is gentle and embedded in the personal, but the experiences of alienation and racism that she relates are nonetheless eye-opening and infuriating.  

5/5

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

Reviewer: Lauren - PhD researcher & founder of Destination Books


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