What Souls Are Made Of, by Tasha Suri

What Souls Are Made Of is the second book I’ve read in the series of “remixed classics” in which writers of colour or writers otherwise marginalized reimagine classics of the Western canon. The first one of these I read was Bethany C. Morrow’s So Many Beginnings, a Little Women remix which I enjoyed although I felt some storylines needed to be developed more. What Souls Are Made Of is a Wuthering Heights remix, and even without the twist of it being imagined by a writer of South Asian heritage, any retelling of WH that can make Heathcliff anything other than an absolutely repugnant villain deserves big props right from the get go.

Tasha Suri, who I’ve known best up till now as a fantasy writer, re-imagines Emily Bronte’s classic story of doomed, self-destructive love through the lens of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent. The main characters Cathy, her brother Hindley, and the orphan child Heathcliff who comes to live with them, are all of mixed Indian and English ancestry; Cathy and Hindley are the children of an Indian mistress their father lived with while working overseas with the British East Indian Company. Heathcliff is the child of an Indian sailor and an Englishwoman; the elder Mr. Earnshaw’s strange act of adopting this orphan makes sense in the context of his guilt over abandoning his Indian mistress and another child there, and in the larger picture of his guilt over the impact of colonialism on the people he knew in that country.

Cathy and Heathcliff’s love seems as doomed and fated as in the original novel, but unlike Bronte, Suri devotes a good portion of the book to what Heathcliff does when he leaves Wuthering Heights as a young man. She follows him to Liverpool, where he becomes part of a group of marginalized, poor, mixed-race people in that port city, and confronts both his own past and an uncertain future. In WH, Heathcliff returns from his time away having mysteriously become wealthy, and uses that newfound wealth and power to exact brutal revenge on everyone who was ever cruel to him. What Souls Are Made Of shows a plausible path to how Heathcliff might have amassed wealth and power, and how he might have desired revenge — but this version of Heathcliff may be capable of making different choices than Bronte’s Heathcliff, and may even be able to change the end of his story.

You’ll have to read it to find out.

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