Not for the Faint of Heart: Tania De Rozario’s And the Walls Come Crumbling Down
Tania De Rozario’s lyrical memoir opens with heartbreak, a woman whose lover has left the couple’s derelict Singapore apartment—due to frustration, perhaps a yearning for European respite, perhaps to find another woman to love—and moved to Amsterdam. The narrator is left to feel the absence of her lover in every crumbling room of the apartment, as she begins to weave memories of the relationship—its budding beginnings to its slow and cross-continental dissolution—with more distant memories of her family growing up in Singapore, all the while profiling the city from provincial water town to emerging global power insistent on sanitizing itself for the banker class.
And the Walls Come Crumbling Down is at its best when grappling with the considerations of home, whether it be the physical entropic space that is corroding around the author, the struggles of feeling—or not feeling—a sense of home with family, or the doom of being ousted from her neo-liberalizing hometown. Most memorable in the book are the detailed passages of the ramshackle abodes the narrator finds herself inhabiting—the leaking ceilings, the peeling paint, the yielding joists— the leftover places in expensive world cities that artists occupy to sustain their practice. But most penetrating are the termites. De Rozario had me itching with angst as her narrator-self listens to the “tiny, insistent sound” that “resembles a cross between television buzz and garlic being fried” in the walls behind her head as she lay in bed, helpless. The combination of the character’s inertia, coupled with the knowledge of her heartbreak as these insects pester her, is enough to make you throw the book across the room, or scream to drown out the sounds now embedded in your own head. It is very effective in realizing the relative hell of our protagonist’s circumstance, this lonely one she finds herself in. It also resonates as a testament to the creative class in late-capitalist culture, one that disregards its artists.
The sequences about her various family members—and their inability to fully accept the author—help the reader understand the maudlin reaction to the loss of her lover. If it wasn’t for these glimpses into the De Rozarios’s early life and the observations of a changing Singapore—its relentless erasing of her and her artist friends—we wouldn’t quite empathize with the mawkish lament of her drawn-out breakup. It wasn’t just a lover she lost, but a semblance of a home the narrator had been desperately seeking to recreate, to build with whatever materials were available to her. When one’s family is absent, when one’s city keeps telling her she doesn’t belong, what does a queer woman do? What can she build when her environment has further precluded her from any sense of comfort? And then, for termites to physically dismantle what these other calamities have done meta-physically? Ooph.
If there is a manifesto in this series of flashes about finding safety, of finding comfort, it is in the final chapter, the most discrete and stylistically independent section of the book, aptly titled “Home.” De Rozario writes, in a rumination about love, “Physical geography is a barrier that can be conquered with an aeroplane or with bird-like instinct. Interior geography is an ocean so vast, that to love must be to walk on water. And we want to believe we are capable of miracles.” That interior geography is what has been disrupted and brought to the edge of irreparability in And the Walls Come Crumbling Down. We get no reprieve, and no promise of retribution. Perhaps that is what makes this book so honest. After experiencing such a devastating year—for artists, for queers, for humanity—I only hope that De Rozario’s book is not prophetic. I’m sure the author feels the same.
And for Goddess’ sake, everyone, look out for termites.
Tania De Rozario
October 1, 2020
$16.00 / Paperback
144 pages / 5.5″ x 8.5″
Distributed by Ingram
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