In Carolina Hotchandani’s debut The Book Eaters, the poet’s desire for agency over her life’s narrative is counterbalanced by her awareness that poetry is written precisely when life wrests control from us. This book, conceived in loss, examines shifts in identity due to Partition, immigration, illness, and birth. As roles evolve and dissolve, the poet witnesses the decay of language, artifacts, and history, yet these erasures are also generative: they beget poetic creation. The Book Eaters is a study in belonging as well—to our bodies, our memories, our stories, ourselves, our families, our cultures. Hotchandani’s poems interrogate what it means to be full or empty (of words, of the past, of another human being); they illuminate our inextricability from our creaturehood. Even as they explore unraveling—through the metaphor of insects that devour the very pages we produce—these poems are tightly woven into an exquisitely crafted, cohesive collection.
In your version of the story, people butter their fingers
with notions of God, splitting India into a smaller India,
a new Pakistan. The way a single roti’s dough
is pulled apart, the new spheres, rolled in the palms,
then flattened. The idea of God—the destroyer of human bonds,
you will say—the reason for new borders, new
pain to sprout on either side of a dividing line. You’ll go on.
I’ll picture the edges of your words blurring to a hum
as I think of how to wrest your rant from you.
A rolling pin barrels over dough, widens the soft disk,
makes it fine. You are fragile. Like a story that stretches
belief. Like a nation. Like a thin disk of dough that sticks
to a surface, tearing when it’s peeled back. I don’t know
how to part the story from the person and keep the person.
Listen to “Partition,” read by Carolina Hotchandani:
Listen to “Nesting,” read by Carolina Hotchandani:
“Carolina Hotchandani’s The Book Eaters is simply a gorgeous book of poems. The poems’ subjects are varied and deftly handled: a father’s aphasia, diaspora, new motherhood, language, memory, the natural world. But it’s the language in these poems that most interests and intrigues me—a reflective language that casts and recasts a thinking mind, a mind that is a highway through life’s travails. After all our metaphor-making is over, what’s left is a life lived, The Book Eaters seems to be saying, as the penultimate poem notes: ‘Now that the drama is gone from her story, / the trees will stand for trees alone.’” —Victoria Chang
“Carolina Hotchandani’s The Book Eaters is that rare debut: one that satisfies the heart and head in equal measures. In these subtle, lyric poems, Hotchandani explores the loss of a father’s language and memory, a loss complicated by Partition, emigration, and the body’s own failures, even by narrative itself, which threatens to revise and reimagine the past, even as the writing of these poems helps revive the speaker’s memories. These poems understand that language and culture offer us a paradox: we may be contained and constrained within the languages we inherit and lose, yet we also become authors of our identities through our love of story, extending our lines of memory and culture so that all the selves we are and have been tangle together. In the end, where does a self truly end and narrative fantasy begin? ‘I don’t know/ how to part the story from the person and keep the person,’ Hotchandani writes, but these are poems that—miraculously—preserve both.” —Paisley Rekdal
“Carolina Hotchandani’s debut, The Book Eaters, is both a personal meditation on loss and a philosophical inquiry into how metaphor shepherds us through life-changing transformations: death, birth, the making of art that can control neither journey though it speaks to both. The speaker of these poems tries to insert herself into her father’s failing memory in a beautifully desperate and impossible effort not to be erased. She reads aloud to her unborn child, hoping both mother and child can enter the ‘current / of another’s voice.’ In a striking analogy, silverfish make their way through books, which are literally and metaphorically nourishing. Acts of identity theft both real and imagined catalyze the inquiries into self and other that animate this collection in both personal and political ways: ‘Those holes will tell my story too.’ The words ‘deliver’ and ‘labor’ weave through the poems, lifting the maternal into the artistic, the intimate into the universal.” —Catherine Barnett