Mirror Reflections

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1928 International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation mural at 75 Broad St, NY. According to NY Songlines it is meant to represent “Commerce uniting the hemispheres with electricity.”

I didn’t need Aditi Khorana’s Mirror in the Sky to be the familiar science fiction story with alien Doppelganger cyborgs speaking pages from a high school Physics textbooks. The doses of physics she provided helped clarify the existence of the “mirror Earth” Terra Nova and I didn’t need to know any more than what her narrator, Tara Krishnan, heard in the TV news reports.

I felt the same about Kazuo Ishiguro’s sci-fi novel, Never Let Me Go. In Ishiguro’s story the science is drawn from the field of cloning and organ transplants. It is set in a future world where civil rights advocates have lost their battle to provide human clones with the same rights as their originals. Though hinted at, this isn’t mentioned until the end of the story when Ishiguro puts everything into context. Until then you reside in his narrator Kathy’s head and live through all of her coming-of-age anxieties.

Ishiguro uses the sci-fi elements in his novel to question real world social issues like bigotry, “separate but equal,” and free will, while chronicling the Kathy’s emotional growth from a young girl into a young woman. This is what I wanted from Khorana’s Tara. As Mirror in the Sky progresses. The discovery of a “mirror Earth” has everyone questioning their life choices. On “mirror Earth” the consequences of important historical events are reversed. Though Tara joins her world, wondering what her mirror-self is like and if her mirror-self is happier, more successful, more confident, more… etc. she never does so with any depth. She never truly imagines her mirror-self’s life or questions her own motives and circumstances. I wanted Khorana’s Tara to be more like Ishiguro’s Kathy. I needed an introspective a-ha moment where Tara learns something new and pivotal and life-changing.

Tara’s father is South Asian and her mother is White. She identifies as South Asian because her father’s genes were dominant. She talks about being the darkest or brownest one in her Connecticut high school. There is a rich expositional moment in the story where her self-consciousness about her body hair comes up. Unfortunately, like other interesting incidents in the story, it is sacrificed for the sake of Tara’s swallow pursuit of her crush, Nick.

I am not asserting that Khorana use Tara to explore the challenges, triumphs, and joys of being South Asian in post-9/11 America or make a poignant statement about “Asian-ness.” Tara is a very relatable character. You don’t need to be Asian American to understand the loneliness and insecurity of being the “only one” and made to answer for the choices of your entire race. You don’t need to be South Asian or a woman to be pained by your biology.

I am, however, asserting that Tara needed to be given the depth she deserves. She needed to be written into situations that test her mettle or better demonstrate why she is the protagonist and why we should be Team Tara. There is an opportunity to tell the story of the trials and tribulations of a young South Asian girl growing up in an affluent Connecticut community and reach anyone who’s felt like an outsider. Even in accepting Khorana’s pursuit of stereotypical popular boy and the clique clichés, I wanted enough heated drama to help mold a new Tara by the end of the book.

When Tara succeeds in being with Nick, I hoped for a Cruel Intentions style triangle with her, Nick, and Halle (Nick’s girlfriend and Tara’s new best friend). I hoped it was part of a sick, malicious game invented by Halle and her clique to reassert their dominance in order to quiet their own personal insecurities caused by the mirror Earth. When I wasn’t given that I hoped it was the clique’s bet to see how far Nick could go with Tara. Or maybe it’s a variation on the She’s All That scenario where Nick makes over Tara to win a bet but instead learns a lesson about the meaning of beauty and develops an appreciation for beauty through different eyes and cultures.

When Tara’s best friend Meg is reintroduced during the later half of the book, I hoped it would be a book about friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness. At the start of Mirror in the Sky Tara is upset because her best friend Meg is leaving to study abroad for a year. The situation infuriates Tara when Meg makes a comment about their changing over her absence and perhaps drifting apart. As it turns out, Tara, who shared being an outsider with Meg, has become a member of the clique while Meg has grown even more out of touch having been away. Meg returns early from her time abroad disillusioned and needing a friend but Tara doesn’t even notice her. Meg confronts her but Khorana doesn’t explore their relationship any further.

I liked how Khorana attempted to focus on the emotional and social impact of a “mirror Earth” on the people of this earth. The most interesting side story involves the rise of an everyday Japanese woman to celebrity because a random picture of her ends up proving Terra Nova as a “mirror Earth.” Khorana also used the bits of science she provides effectively set the events in the book. Tara describes the Three Body Problem in Physics as her relationship with Nick and Halle deepens.

What I didn’t like was how Tara never stopped to reflect on anything. Tara had two moments of introspection. Both times they occur on the grass by an abandoned house. The area by the house is sealed off and she needs to sneak in. This was a perfect metaphor for introspection. However, they are too few to properly address all of the changes and drama Tara must deal without her best friend and sounding board, Meg. I can appreciate the fact that maybe she didn’t want to dwell on the drama but I needed Khorana to give me a less subtle clue that this was the case.

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