Book Review: Sepia Leaves by Amandeep Sandhu

30 January 2023
Smitha Murthy Written by Smitha Murthy
Smitha Murthy

Smitha Murthy

Co-Founder and Editor @MyndStories Smitha Murthy has shaped...

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I read more than 100 books a year. But I don’t remember even 10 of those books. 

Yet, despite having read Amandeep Sandhu’s ‘Sepia Leaves’ in 2021, those pages are still alive in my mind, jostling for space between those words and leaving their imprints each time. 

This is not a traditional review. I would not give you an exposition of the plot or an understanding of the themes. It doesn’t really matter. Amandeep Sandhu wrote this book as a ‘novel,’ but it’s more than that. You know that here is a deeply vulnerable account of a young boy who lives with the beautiful mind of his mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. 

Amandeep Sandhu

I met Amandeep a few months after I read ‘Sepia Leaves.’ He remains a kind and gentle friend who freely gave his time for the MyndStories podcast and a featured interview with a young writer. He is one of India’s strongest advocates for mental health, a powerful speaker who champions the cause of mental well-being wherever he goes. 

Amandeep writes on his blog that “Sepia Leaves is a true story. It is called fiction because the timeline of the story is not entirely real, and I merged some characters while, in other places, I created more than one character from one person. Yet, the events and emotional content of the story is absolutely and entirely true.”

And how can it not? You grow to love Appu, a young boy in the 1970s who is desperately trying to understand his dysfunctional family. You get to know Manjeet, Appu’s father, a stoic character, who may frustrate you, but whose acceptance of destiny or fate you realize takes more strength than apparent passivity. You meet his mother, Manjeet, fiery and unpredictable. 

Sepia Leaves by Amandeep Sandhu

‘I never knew how Mamman would behave in any given situation. Mamman was two Mammans. Once I entered the kitchen, Mamman was shouting swear words at the top of her voice. When I asked for food, she picked up the daal and poured it down the drain. This was angry Mamman. When I came home the next day, she burnt some half-burnt puris and kept piling my plate with them even though I was full. She was very calm as if she didn’t hear my repeated refusal. I threw the puris out of the window. That was the over-loving Mamman.’

And you meet Appu, shy, vulnerable, and searching for understanding. “Nothing was normal in our house. Food was cooked on a need-to-eat and clothes washed on a need-to-wear basis.

Does he get it? The understanding? Amandeep says he wrote this book to remind us of hope. Of redemption. He wrote to remind us all of hope and redemption. This book is a haunting, direct look at living with a loved one with schizophrenia. It’s not pretty. It’s dark and honest. But it shines a path into our beautiful minds. 

My favorite passage from the book:

Appu: “What is Schi-zo-phre-nia?”

Mamman: “The most precious brain in the whole world. My brain is most precious.”

The book was published in 2008, but its message remains the same: We deserve more hope. More compassion. And more understanding of the magic of our minds. And also the mystery of our minds. 

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