A Homecoming Story
Tania de Rozario, And The Walls Come Crumbling Down, (2016), Math Paper Press.
“When will I come Home?” is the question that Tania De Rozario’s And The Walls Come Crumbling Down asks again and again, but never quite answers. The memoir traverses time, tracing De Rozario’s childhood up to young adulthood, her strained relationship with her mother, the struggle to reconcile religion and sexuality and the choice to leave the “home” she was born in penniless. More importantly, the collection sketches spaces that masquerade as home and how the author sheds each false skin, inching closer to an answer with each moult.
The most seemingly innocuous of details— forgotten family photographs in musty old drawers, bed frames and the Walls of a house are in the end, the most revealing about one’s sense of connection, family and a sense of home. As De Rozario looks at the yellowed photos of a father she has never met, she realises that blood ties do not always equate to home.
Walls delineates stories of growth and growing up before one’s time, in a way that mimics so closely the way the human mind remembers: through the experiences that influence us the most—for better or for worse. A mother who cannot break away from her faith to try to understand her only daughter’s sexuality and a church that villainises her orientation are only two of a string of events that force young De Rozario to come to terms with how cruel life can be early on. It is through the walls that we build up in and around our bodies, minds and homes that the collection illustrates how much of shame about poverty, sexuality and aspirations are shut out and silenced by the ghosts of familial and societal expectations.
The grimy and messy tales of sex and sexuality are painted on a canvas of school uniforms and the signature Singapore humidity. Through the tale of a first teenage romance and sexual awakening, decorated with the images of pinafores and white school shoes, De Rozario invites the reader to experience alongside her younger self the pleasure the body can offer. When the lover consciously erases the romance with De Rozario from her memory when she marries a man, the collection conjures flashbacks about the shame that arises afterwards, from the ghosts of the teachings from family and society who refuse to acknowledge the presence and power of the body.
The great detail devoted to tales of strained familial ties makes for familiar reflections of our own struggles. In the wake of an exorcism, an attempt to get rid of the “homosexual demon” that has possessed De Rozario leaves silence and empty words. The excruciating silence of a mother who has given up on her deviant and disgraceful daughter and the pained silence of a numbed child, rejected by family, forge a wall cemented with shame and fear. The physical hunger, stolen food and the cold are but physical manifestations of a greater homelessness and loneliness that exist in the mind.
It becomes clear that the stories outlined are more than just personal anecdotes, they are the memories of hurt, suffering, familial tensions and most of all silence that an entire generation has carefully tucked away in the recesses of their minds. They are the war cries of the self that lies beneath polished exteriors. They are reminders of what we no longer dare to be. As a result, And The Walls Come Crumbling Down asks the hard questions, cracking the walls we build up, bit by bit, leaving the reader in a necessary discomfort. In the end, the question of when De Rozario will achieve her homecoming remains up in the air. Maybe, there is no answer because home is about people rather than the amount of time spent in a space, and perhaps humans are the most unfathomable of all. And so, the unyielding search goes on.
And the Walls Come Crumbling Down was published by Math Paper Press in 2016 and can be purchased from local bookstore BooksActually or from their online store.