Global sales of Milk & Honey is over 1.4 million copies. The author, Rupi Kaur, has a sizeable social media following; their upcoming book tour is sold out in most places.
I had heard of the book, but hadn’t read reviews of it. I just picked it up from the local library as it was on display. It is 208 pages and has illustrations. It reads and looks like a private journal. Overall, I approached the writing with kindness – personal journeys can often be difficult; people have their own resilience levels – but I do have some concerns, especially given its popularity. The book itself is divided into four chapters which look at pain, loss, recovery and healing.
The book sets the context in Chapter 1 where the protagonist is affected by abusive relationships driven by patriarchal power and the associated repression of female desires/ambitions and voice. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of support structures, buffers or alternatives and the protagonist is isolated and looses herself and self-worth.
That said, reading through Chapter 2 was difficult and at times confusing – I had to resist the urge to throw the book across the room especially with lines like ‘you talk too much he whispers into my ear I can think of better ways to use that mouth‘.
Later in the same chapter the protagonist says ‘I am learning how to love him by loving myself’ and then at the end of the book she says ‘how you love yourself is how you teach others to love you’ (didn’t work with the boyfriend though – and this isn’t explored).
So, I would ask. Did the protagonist love herself but sacrifice her love for herself because she would rather be loved by her boyfriend – although he didn’t love her the way she wanted to be loved?
‘Love’ does not necessarily mean balance and neither does it generally deliver on preconceived notions about what love is. In fact, the book doesn’t bother to address this at all. This is quite problematic, because much of opposite-sex relationship dynamics is based on preconceived ideas of what ‘love’ should look like and it is promoted widely in literature/the arts/media/socio-political structures. Much of the time, it is precisely because of this, that young girls face different socio-political and behavioural standards compared to boys at a young age. Where are people learning about what it means to be a girl as opposed to a boy? Why are those who don’t fall into the neat categories erased from representation and discourse?
Chapter 4 reads like a series of self-help guidance/quotes woven together and covers everything from body image to loneliness and the self-image of people of colour. I think the author was trying to do something good through her work, but perhaps needed more guidance, direction and time.
I’m an eternal optimist. So, I guess the pros of this book could be:
- it could help those who need a push to ‘wake up’
- it could comfort those who have gone through the same experiences and should feel enabled to forgive themselves and move on to brighter futures
- it’s accessible in terms of format and ideation.
Writing published by people of colour, especially those who are women, is often ignored. Diverse views/representation in publishing are important. We all need different tools and approaches to understand our journeys, and perhaps this book may help some embrace their own strengths.
As for me, for the time being, I’ll be sticking with Audre Lorde, Jackie Kay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carol Ann Duffy, Shailja Patel, Polly Clark and Kishwar Naheed among others. These are some of the voices that have kept me strong, confident and able to walk away from anything and anyone that has tried to erode my self-worth.