The "Why" of Police Brutality

Devi Laskar’s debut novel is thoughtful in its interrogation of gun violence against South Asian Americans — but, in its search for the “why,” misses a few moments.

Annesha Sengupta

May 29, 2019

The "Why" of Police Brutality

Devi Laskar’s profound and painful debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues, begins with a Bengali woman, “Mother,” bleeding out onto the pavement. Mother doesn’t know why she’s there, why she “breathes the metal essence of her own blood as it exits the hole the bullet has created.” She can hear police officers chattering around her, see the shapes of birds and the sky, and knows that something terrible has happened. But she doesn’t know why.

The novel is based on a true incident in 2010, when the Georgia Bureau of Investigations raided Laskar’s home at gunpoint because of charges (later dropped) against her husband. In her novel, Laskar flips the switch. What if she had resisted the officers that day? What if, having resisted, she was shot? Mother’s character blooms from this possibility.

Raised in South Carolina, Mother now lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with a white husband, who always travels for work, and three young daughters. Everyone around her is white.

As a child, Mother was told that she could never date white boys because, as one girl remarked about her skin, “this won’t come off.” Police constantly stop her, now an adult, while driving. Her daughter is bullied in school. Mother doesn’t appear to have friends.