Voices of the Lost – Hoda Barakat

Imagine if you could read all the unsent letters, all those that got lost or that were never meant to be sent. This book gives you a good sense of what would happen. A sense of what’s lost when we don’t communicate our thoughts, but also what may happen if we do. A book on what’s lost when communication fails, and what could be lost if it didn’t.

It is one of the books I received on a subscription box. I honestly don’t remember which one, so will not try to guess. It is interesting how the subscription boxes often push me out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I would buy this book on my own accord. I’d probably think it would be too emotional. But when I get it, with all the joy of a surprise in a subscription box I will eventually read it.

After a few longer books I felt like a quick read and this book seemed to be relatively short. Quick read it is not though. It takes some time to digest.

The book is in fact a collection of letters that never reached their destination. The reasons vary, some were never intended to be sent, some writers changed their mind, in other cases life got in the way. From chapter to chapter we jump through the letters, the only connecting point is always the fact that the writer of the next letter somehow came in the possession of the previous one. Otherwise the people and the letters are not connected. The final part of the book also includes imaginary responses to those never-sent letters. A dialogue that never took place (for the respondents have no idea a letter intended for them ever existed).

It is a heavy read, our writers include people who were tortured and who did this to others, people who had to flee their country or their family, people who are lost in every possible way. All the letters deal with some form of suffering or misery. None of the senders is in a happy place. For some of them, those letters are a form of absolution, for others, they are a cry for help. 

The book focuses very heavily on the internal monologue. There is not much plot as such, we find out each person’s story, but also quickly realize that it is skewed, just like all of us have a skewed perception of ourselves. The events happen, but what is really the concern here are the emotions evoked by those events or the memories of them. 

Writing itself also triggers emotions, we realize this already in the first letter. Our minds let loose on the page will roam and will jump from one emotional state to the other. As if it tried to play the dialogue in the letter form that by definition is confined to a monologue. As if the mind was bored by a logical monologue, and more interested in jumping around the topics, feelings, and levels of unhappiness.

This book made me realize a few things, but probably the key one is how lucky we are that we cannot read other people’s minds. Our communication channels are always considered so limited, words never giving the full justice to our thoughts. But what if this is how it’s supposed to be? What if our thoughts are just too cruel and words are the necessary filter.

Without knowing the exact thoughts of others we do fill in the blanks, this is just what our minds always do. This way we create an illusion and typically we perceive illusions as something negative. But what if this is the only thing keeping us sane and together as a society, family, friends? 

It is hard to say that I liked this book because it is rare that I find such an unhappy read. Not only it is a book about suffering and misery, but also it offers no hope whatsoever. There is no redemption, no saving, just people with their thoughts and crippled communication. Not a book to read when you are already down.

Here are two more reviews so you can see a broader range of views:

Safiya Reads

The Bobshpere

Ha! and here we find out from which subscription box I got the book:

Sprinkled With Words

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

2 thoughts on “Voices of the Lost – Hoda Barakat

  1. Pingback: Q2 2021 round-up – bookskeptic.com

  2. I just read this and haven’t stopped thinking about it, it’s hard to put together words to describe it. I love the way you talk about it, it’s exactly the experience of reading this. I enjoyed the epistolary form, even if they read more like diary entries, because they are overly Frank and honest in a way that would be hurtful to the real recipient. The misery of not belonging, neither where they are or where they’ve come from.

    Liked by 1 person

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