Paul C Pritchard reviews a memoir that explores how pure friendship – even the most unlikely kind – can create magic.
Local Byron-based writer Barbara Carmichael’s I’ve Come to Say Goodbye is first and foremost a love story. A story of hearts that come together and bind in seemingly improbable circumstances. It’s not a romantic love story and yet the whole travelogue is a romantic adventure. The style is refreshingly simple, conversational and honest. Most memoirs written about a deep connection with India will usually take you on an overt spiritual quest. There’s the lost western soul searching for the meaning of life who happens upon a saviour (Guru) who invariably will abuse their power, but this book is more subtle than that. It gradually reveals the author’s own personal growth without any of spiritual clichés and claptrap.
Barbara’s preconceived ideas and western prejudices are slowly dissolved when she meets Tarun, a local man from Udaipur, whilst she’s accompanying a friend on a buying trip.
Thus unfolds a memoir of simple human connections which expand over a ten-year period. It feels sacred without exploiting any religious or spiritual clichés and in relegating God and religion to the sidelines there is plenty of space for what this story is actually about: two people from diverse cultures forming a solid friendship with two very old-fashioned ingredients; trust and time. The most overtly ‘holy’ thing in this book is the ‘water’ Barbara drinks – AKA gin.
It’s a light, fast read packed with travel gems and insights. Barbara Carmichael doesn’t take herself too seriously and her gentle humour reflects this. The main backdrop for this heart-warming memoir are the cities of Udaipur and Jaipur with a few sojourns around other towns and places in India as we traverse the majestical landscapes of the Northern Indian State of Rajasthan. Our unlikely travel guide is the author, who has gathered together this book from her journals from over the ten years she has spent visiting Tarun and his extended family.
There is so much historical detail that is colourful and alive. From the extensive description and the feeling of the landscapes it’s clear that Barbara Carmichael is an artist, a painter. She weaves the texture and shades of India joyously throughout the pages. She also has a realistic way of depicting the unromantic faces of India without too much emphasis on the negative. It’s a seductive tale that surprises the reader with tenderness. Nothing terribly dramatic happens and yet the minutiae of everyday life in modern India is delightfully satisfying and intriguing: seasons, weather, festivals, mythology, history, local politics, weddings, births, accidents, technology, monsoons, manmade lakes, palaces, poverty, wealth and of course death.
The book begins with the shocking and unexpected death of Tarun. The subsequent pages are, in a sense, a literary eulogy…a testimony of love, respect, gratitude and enduring friendship. Starting the book with this fact is a very honest strategic literary device. And yet I can’t help but wonder how it might have read had I also fallen in love with Tarun and his family and friends, his hopes and dreams, his kindness, his ambitions and aspirations and then shockingly lost him towards the end of the book? Having said that the sting of grief was well conveyed and neither understated nor overstated.
I’m sure choosing to open the book this way speaks volumes about Barbara Carmichael’s clear and transparent style and her modest way of storytelling. There’s a lot to like about this book. If you’ve never been to India and are thinking of going this is a must read. If you know India but have never been to Rajasthan you could learn a lot. If you’re looking for a light read about unlikely human connections – you’ll really enjoy this.
The one recurring theme which is accurately depicted in this charming memoir is that there is no country, culture, history or geography that is as interesting, sometimes shocking and utterly captivating as Mother India.
I’ve Come to Say Goodbye by Barbara Carmichael available on Amazon $19.99 https://www.amazon.com/Ive-Come-Say-Goodbye-Friendship/dp/192102478X
Reviewed by Paul C Pritchard