Study for Obedience: A “Survival for the Fittest” Tale, Meditative Yet Fickle

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Study for Obedience

Neelam Sharma
Author: Sarah Bernstein


A sharp and absurdly astute account of a rendezvous with totalitarianism and present-day antisemitism, Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein is a short yet powerful novella that flits around the central themes of abuse as well as prejudice, told in short pips of sorts, candidly weaving the main idea throughout this unique monologue by the narrator. Capturing the total essence of internal racism, this one minutely peruses what it feels like to be both the abused and the abuser.

“I knew they were right to hold me responsible” is how the protagonist of Sarah Bernstein’s most recent novel, “Study for Obedience,” begins the story, and it more than alludes to the kind of serious, introspective approach she has taken to depicting life and the concept of “survival for the fittest.” With an inexplicable yet duly surmisable attitude, the protagonist (she is unnamed, so I will resort to calling Hershey herein onwards), who works as a typist and thus is much more comfortable with the power of written language than speech, is summoned to her eldest brother’s house located in the countryside. She proceeds to fall in tandem with a habit she has been imbibed within since her childhood: the art of subjugation, self-pity, a surrender of sorts to becoming nothing but simply a part of the background, a facilitator simply “delivering and doing” what is expected of them.

In the process, we see that she is more like a bird, aspiring to fly but yet afraid to use her wings for the sake of “validation.”. validation that perhaps is forever denied owing to her being the weakest of a set of siblings who, thanks to the so-called “chauvinist modernist’s” approach, are parasitic enough to permanently shun her even out of her skin, let alone her comfort zone. Be it the society that sees her with pure terror and dread, trying as if to expel her from themselves, we also subtly but surely get to witness the persecution as well as the escapades of the protagonist as she struggles with the modern-day “antisemitism” being thrown towards her by the society. For instance, even though she was made the treasurer of organizations, people recoil in horror at her appearance there, repulsive of her presence, and even averse to so much as an acknowledgement or greeting she might try and pass across. And yet, how her sympathy appears even in the face of the town’s resentment is uncanny.

Do you know what possibly comes back after a full circle in life? Frankenstein in the form of a beast, especially to those who tend to incorporate a propriety of either self-pity or self-blame.

True, she drops everything and comes back to live with her entrepreneurial elder brother, who lives in a manor and whose marriage has hit the rocks, yet she also happens to be the one who is accused of bringing forth several catastrophes that have emerged upon the place only after her arrival. This conflicted sort of arrangement is perhaps Sarah’s coy yet absurdly clear way of putting forth a paradox from her protagonist’s vantage point.

The narrative, mostly comprised of her escapades across the woods once she has settled in her brother’s house, is suggestive of the entire main theme in a nomadic yet rhetorical sort of way. A meditation in a way of speaking, this piece of writing by Sarah paints survival in often witnessed but never mused upon hues. One may very easily argue that by way of description, there are scanty, barely-there details, with just the basic framework being supplied in the form of the entrepreneurial brother, the place he stays in, and such trifles. The people of the place who have made peace with the brother, however, have surely not kept the same sort of feelings for the sister. And yet, in between these throngs of denial and non-acceptance for the protagonist, we can fathom so much more than, despite being a novella, I can safely say that this one says so much in terms of message in between-the-lines sort of writing style.

Booker Prize Shortlist: The Booker Prize Shortlist: Western Lane by Chetna Maroo, a Book Review

Sauntering through every dip, digression and rambling she has to share, I could see why this one has beat several others to become a Booker Prize shortlist. It is self-deprecating, intangible at places and yet almost perceptible for the paradigm it has to put across.

Thus, by exploring abuse, prejudice and guilt from the perspective of a single narrator, Sarah has put across despotism in a dark, upsetting sort of way. Her writing is coy yet urgent, threatening to break through the shackles of the usual with her compelling and uncanny attempt at a meditative narrative that spells much more than just survival. A phenomenal read, however, is a warning. Be prepared to be caught up in whirlwinds of intensity, and be forewarned—this is not your usual fiction, guys.

So, I hope you guys liked my book review of Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein.

Stay tuned with us right here at Booxoul as we attempt to steadily read our way through the entire Booker Prize 2023 shortlist, getting you the reviews as and how we finish them. In the meantime, stay tuned with us right here at Booxoul, Asia’s best book review and lifestyle website, for the best in the fields of entertainment, lifestyle, food, fun, finance, fashion, travel, tech and all things bookish.

Adios Amigos!

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