Review: ‘You Beneath Your Skin’ by Damyanti Biswas

‘You Beneath Your Skin’ is a confusing title, for starters. You have to read the blurb to ensure that it’s not a self-help book. Published by Simon & Schuster India, Damyanti Biswas’s debut novel is a literary crime fiction, set against a backdrop of a string of murders across the city of New Delhi, where slum women are found stuffed in body bags with their faces disfigured by acid (a hint to the title).

Indian American Anjali Morgan, who is a single mother to an autistic child, and not so single father Jatin Bhatt, who is the Police Commissioner, search for solace from their difficult families in each other’s arms. The two find themselves in the middle of the crime spree that is engulfing the smog-choked city. Their carefully hidden secret is very close to blowing-up on their faces and affecting the many lives around them.

The novel is more of a literary read than it is a crime read. While the criminal acts being committed do influence the plot significantly, the story explores their causes and effects. If the mainstream whodunits bore you, this might be a book for you. If you’d like to dwell deeper—understand why the crime happened, what was the thought process that justified it, how it affects not just the victim and the perpetrator(s) but also those around them—this definitely is the book for you.

You’ll feel the anger rise as you read this book ripe with misogyny, corruption, and helplessness. And if you’re like me, you’ll be melancholic at the end. The book does well to keep you and your five senses engaged. The sounds, the sights, the smells, the tastes, the feels; the characters and the city come alive with all their features and all their flaws. I’ve only ever been to the airport in the city of New Delhi, but I can say I have walked its streets via the book.

The pacing is not that of a thriller or a regular crime fiction. And it’s really okay; the book was never about the pace. It doesn’t lose you, mostly. The story seemed to drag in the middle for quite a few pages and I struggled with the urge to slam the book shut. But it picks back up in time, at least for me. The language is very accessible with a few Hindi and Urdu phrases sprinkled in (easily understandable due to the context or their translation in English right after).

Overall, this is a great book if you’re looking for a crime story that goes beyond the crime to examine its ripples, or if you want to tour the capital of India without leaving your room, or if you just want the world to get beneath your skin (pun intended). To sweeten the pot, the proceeds from the book that are meant for the author will be donated to two non-profits that work for the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors and to provide quality education to underprivileged children, respectively. 

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