Trigger warning for references to child abuse.
We have an expression about wanting to be a fly on the wall so that we can eavesdrop on others. But what if you could be the wall? In House Number 12 Block Number 3, by Sana Balagamwala, the house itself tells the story after hearing all kinds of conversations over decades. The price of this gift, however, is that no one can hear the house when it really wants to spill secrets and shout warnings to the family it shelters within its walls.
We meet the family six months after the death of the patriarch. Zainab, the widow, is struggling between grief and moving on. Junaid, the son is ready to move on, literally, and wants the family to sell the house. Nadia, the favored daughter, is prostrate. She rarely leaves the room and never leaves the house. She barely eats. She doesn’t want to wash. Her mother has brought in doctors and healers to figure out what’s wrong; they diagnose everything from depression to possession by a jinn. The house knows what’s wrong, but it can’t speak to tell them what’s really wrong with Nadia.
House Number 12 Block Number 3 moves back and forth from the early 1980s back to the late-1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. We watch Nadia grow up under her father’s indulgent eye and her mother’s worried one. When Nadia is a little girl, her uncle comes to visit and she is never the same again. The house knows—and we know, because of the house—what happened even though we (thankfully) never get the actual details.
This novel isn’t the usual story of triumph over abuse or about forgiveness or even really about healing. Instead, it’s a story about how secrets can never stay hidden, even if propriety really wants them to stay buried. The truth will out, to repeat another common saying. Because of its cathartic conclusion and Balagamwala deft touch with the details, House Number 12 Block 3 turned out to be a surprisingly satisfying read.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.