Book Review: Forty Rooms

You've read The Forty Rules of Love, now enter Forty Rooms


Purva Grover

Published: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 3:41 PM

Don’t judge a book by the cover, they say, yet that’s what drew me to the magnificent, emotionally overwhelming novel, Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin (2016). I’d not heard of the author, sadly (internationally acclaimed for The Dream Life of Sukhanov) but it was the image of the broken cup and saucer, with a gorgeous, vintage floral wallpaper peeping from inside, that was enough to get me to pick the book at my recent stopover at Dubai Public Library. Olga, a Russian-American novelist, has written four novels so far, and all her books have been equally well-received.

Two other reasons would be my recent engagement with book titles playing with words like doors and windows and, of course, the number 40.

So, what’s so intriguing about the digit 40? The author says that a woman in her lifetime passes through 40 rooms, say a bedroom, living room, a dorm room, a bathroom, kitchen, etc. And the book is peppered with tiny, beautiful illustrations of these rooms next to chapter headings, which Olga’s little son helped her with. Also, it’s believed that 40 is the limit of an individual’s endurance, after which you are sure to learn something. To go back in history there are several references around the digit 40: Moses’ 40 years in the desert, Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation, Noah’s 40 days and nights in the rains, et al.

The story is about a Russian girl, who dreams of being a poet and her different stages in life. She never ends up being a poet (or poetess, if you may), but she keeps scribbling her poetic thoughts in her head and sometimes on a sheet of paper too. She keeps waiting for the right moment for things to change for her or for her to take a step toward a direction she always wished to. All this while she gets married, has beautiful children, lives in America, and raises a beautiful family. However, she keeps delaying taking action on things that bring her joy, waiting for the right moment (which is what a lot of us do!).

There’s a lot to chew in here, from questions to regrets. What makes the book particularly interesting is that it’s written from the POV of a character, who is a poet, hence the appearance of poetry warms your heart as you flip through. I’ll leave with you one for now:

I have so many things to do today,

I must murder the rest of my memory,

I must turn my soul to stone,

I must learn to live again.

Grover is an author and avid reader

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