The first in a collection of works entitled Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose, Heart Museum is the sort of lyrical, prose-poetry essay that you want to sit inside for a little while.
With hearts as a central motif – their physical constancy; the Build-A-Bear heart gifted to her by a friend; the in-patient relative she visits in Mumbai, her rickshaw driver calling the hospital accurately, poignantly: the heart museum – Chew-Bose constantly allows herself to get distracted (her happiness, she writes, in fact requiring it). Often chasing tangents that leave you wondering where she's going, her writing ducks and weaves - building, building, building - and then looping back with an ease and logic which feels deeply satisfying. At other times ideas are allowed to ebb, pleasingly, with no fixed resolution.
It is a recounting of memories, hers and others'. An exploration of the way “smells conjure scenes from movies” just as colours do, or the sound of a singer's voice which feels like “the touch of worn cotton; a rotation of old T-shirts my mother wears when she's cooking, listening to jazz compilations”. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, concerned with love in many guises; a nourishing, resonant glimpse into Durga Chew-Bose's inner life.
Receiving a call that her father has died - the well loved, universally respected Rav of an Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon – Ronit, now living a secular life in New York, returns to London, compelled to mourn amongst those she had grown up with. Reunited with childhood friends, Dovid and Esti, now married to each other and living a devout Jewish life, her re-entry into this close-knit community is halting and awkward. So much has changed, and so little.
Played with a quiet gravity that underpins the love in the story - not only between Ronit and Esti (once, and soon again, lovers), but also in the deep marital ties between Dovid and Esti; the community; their devotion to God; the way Ronit still feels for her father, despite difficulties; the true affection that binds the three main characters together – above all, the film is full of humanity, full of empathy. Despite some melodrama, the characters feel real and the stakes are high, and also refreshingly not. No choice is easy but there is no villain. Tender, moving, beautiful.
For the shortest month of the year, February can often feel like the longest. January has been survived and surely winter should nearly be over? And yet, nope: it's still cold and far too dark. Our remedy? Sticking our headphones on and settling in for a marathon listen of the Modern Love podcast.
An audio version of the beloved New York Times column of the same name, Modern Love delves into its archives and pairs past essays with brilliant readers whose voices you'll most likely recognise (Ethan Hawke, Gillian Anderson, Greta Gerwig, Sandra Oh, Uma Thurman, Jake Gyllenhaal, to name but a few). Tackling love in all its heartwarming, heartrending forms, there's nothing so comforting, nor so intimate, as a stranger's story in your ears. Dive in wherever you want, there's not been an episode we haven't enjoyed.