Kintsugi by Anukrti Upadhyay: A tale of Japanese art, an Indian craft and three resilient women

Kintsugi’ is mystifying as a title for a work of Indian fiction. This word comes from the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by using lacquer containing powdered gold, silver, or other metals. At a deeper philosophical level, ‘Kintsugi’ is about appreciating beauty in imperfections by highlighting the breakage instead of concealing it. 

Anukrti Upadhyay molds a composite between two cultures (Indian and Japanese) and brings forth the philosophical gist of ‘Kintsugi’ through the relationships portrayed by three female characters. The stories around these three characters – Haruko, Leela, and Meena explore the themes of feminism, loneliness, homosexuality, and companionship.

The book is mostly set in Jaipur and Japan, with a very tiny bit in Singapore and Borneo. The author takes us across some of the unfamiliar places in Japan, away from bustling Tokyo. The scenic change and the intricate details around Japanese culture, food, and lifestyle surely had my heart.

Haruko is a Korean-Japanese girl brought up in America, studying ornament designing and placed in Jaipur with the local craftsmen to learn the Indian techniques of jewelry making. This book familiarized me with many forms of rich Indian jewelry-making heritage – thewa, jadav, meenakari, etc with a peep inside the closed community of sunars/ goldsmiths.

Munnaji and Madanji are the two brothers belonging to the fourth generation goldsmiths of Johri Bazaar in Jaipur. Haruko works with Madanji and later shifts to Munnaji in his house. With this close look inside the lives of the goldsmiths, the owners of a gaddi working with their craftsmen gives perspective on the invisible role of the craftsmen versus the designer in delivering the final piece of stunning jewelry. Undoubtedly, Haruko working at the furnace without inhibitions is a delight to read. It is strange that Haruko’s foreign origin allowed her entry into learning the craft prohibited for women in their own country.  

Haruko touches upon two lives – Leela and Prakash. Leela is the youngest daughter of Munnaji, still studying in school at the beginning of the book. She is a stubborn, headstrong girl and Haruko becomes the stimulus for her to pursue jewelry making amidst the ardent opposition on a girl learning the trade.

The third woman in the story is Meena, the ambitious, studious girl who decides to leave her parents to pursue studying in Japan. The Indian parents are unable to understand their daughter’s desire to stay away from her ‘own’ people and pursue a career in a nearby University.  

Girls are like clay, she was fond of saying, I have kept mine soft, you can mould them as you like. I resented it, resented being compared to a pat of shapeless clay, to be pounded and pulled and pinched into shape.

Prakash is the young doctor at the Government hospital who treats Haruko’s fractured leg and the one waiting for his fiancée Meena to return from Japan. We wonder if Haruko could make Prakash understand beyond his limited perception of love, emotions, and marriage.

The story lucidly flows from the bylanes of Jaipur to Japan. In Tokyo, Meena meets Yuri at a language exchange class. Slowly, Meena trails to become the dust filling the cracks in Yuri’s childhood loss of her mother’s affection. Yuri definitely makes for a poignant character.

Hajime, the Japanese who lived in America for the most part is another entrant into Meena’s universe of confused relationships. Hajime and Prakash, the two male characters are pleasant to read, their perturbed minds playing into the theme of finding meaning in broken relations.

Life lessons and philosophies bead along with the narrative as characters explore their passion for work and grapple in emotional turmoil. The characters seek a ‘home’, Meena’s quest takes her to Japan and only Haruko can understand that sometimes ‘foreign’ is what makes you feel at home. For Hajime, the ways of nature making turtles travel from all across the world to lay eggs at the exact same place from where they began their life as hatchlings is incomprehensible. To Prakash, it is unfathomable on how the smell of formaldehyde could be repulsive to a person. Nonetheless, mending broken relationships is inexplicable.

…if there is a flaw in the first moulding, however much you patch it up, the ornament will remain imbalanced. The only solution is to start over again, even though precious metal is lost in the process.

It is wonderful to read the passages where Haruko quietly operates the lathe, cleans the furnace, and does metalwork just like the Indian sunars. Similarly, when Leela becomes an independent jewelry maker to support her family, hushing the incoherent aunts and uncles, it becomes incredibly empowering.  

It is always interesting when one has three female protagonists in a narrative running parallel in a complex plot. The contrast in each character – socially and economically adds to the reader’s interest.

Somewhere around the climax, I felt the grip loosening but then it left me at a beautiful philosophical juncture.

Kintsugi’ is definitely refreshing in its treatment of love, relationship, and loss. The parts in Japan are sure to remind you of ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Murakami. That said; the originality in amalgamating two entirely different worlds through a traditional craft and understanding of women’s emotions and grit is outstanding.  

Kintsugi: A Novel’ by Anukrti Upadhyay; 217 pages,
Fourth Estate, HarperCollins India (2020)

Order your copy of ‘Kintsugi: A Novel’ by Anukrti Upadhyay on Amazon

About the Author

Anukrti Upadhyay has post-graduate degrees in Management and Literature, and a graduate degree in Law. She writes in both English and Hindi. She stunned readers and critics alike with the twin novellas Daura and Bhaunri in 2019, and delighted Hindi readers with short story collection Japani Sarai.

I received this book as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program in exchange for an honest review. 

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14 thoughts on “Kintsugi by Anukrti Upadhyay: A tale of Japanese art, an Indian craft and three resilient women

  1. I am hearing a lot about this book all across the web. the title of book is unique and plot sounds so interesting. loved your review. will check out this book for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review. I noted your tweet about this a few days ago and had been thinking of reading your post since then. Fascinating to see the variety of things that you looked into and the angle you approached the review from.

    Liked by 1 person

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