Aanchal Malhotra's Remnants of a Separation was one of my best books of 2023. I was highly impressed with her writing, research, and ability to evoke emotion.

I was planning to read In The Language of Remembering next but a friend convinced me to read this first because he loved it and lent his copy to me on the spot. With that praise, I couldn't help but read it immediately.

about The Book of Everlasting Things

the book of everlasting things by aanchal malhotra book cover

On a January morning in 1938, Samir Vij first locks eyes with Firdaus Khan through the rows of perfume bottles in his family’s ittar shop in Lahore. Over the years that follow, the perfumer’s apprentice and calligrapher’s apprentice fall in love with their ancient crafts and with each other, dreaming of the life they will one day share. But as the struggle for Indian independence gathers force, their beloved city is ravaged by Partition.

Suddenly, they find themselves on opposite sides: Samir, a Hindu, becomes Indian and Firdaus, a Muslim, becomes Pakistani, their love now forbidden. Severed from one another, Samir and Firdaus make a series of fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives forever. As their paths spiral away from each other, they must each decide how much of the past they are willing to let go, and what it will cost them.

Lush, sensuous, and deeply romantic, The Book of Everlasting Things is the story of two lovers and two nations, split apart by forces beyond their control, yet bound by love and memory. Filled with exquisite descriptions of perfume and calligraphy, spanning continents and generations, Aanchal Malhotra’s debut novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Content warnings: descriptions of war, violence, death of family, hate crime, grief.

my review

The Book of Everlasting Things is Aanchal Malhotra's debut fiction book. After writing two stellar non-fiction books about the Partition of India, she has enough knowledge and inspiration to write a fictional story set around that time. I was excited to see what she created.

The art of perfumery, thus, is all about association and evocation. It is the union of chemistry and poetry.

The story is about many things but it is mainly about a boy and perfume. The official blurb says that it's a romance but I disagree (I'll explain why later). It's about beautiful scents and the emotions and memories that they evoke. It's about a boy with a talent for perfumery and how he eventually created his perfect perfume composition.

Throughout the book, there are descriptions of what perfumery looks like, why smell is an important sense, and the power of fragrance. It made perfume seem like a beautiful, magical thing—something that binds memories of places and people to us, gives us solace, and a thing without mass that we can lose ourselves in.

As the book takes us through several decades, we also see how a person's relationship with smells changes over time. We see how it can break us or bring us back to life. We see how one scent, on a random day, can make us travel back in time and help us to become that person again.

I'll admit it: I don't think of smells much. I like lighting scented candles occasionally and using perfumes on eventful days but I don't stop and notice scents during regular days. I don't think about what my city smells like, what my mom smells like, or the prominent scent in the air during a big day.

This book made me want to stop and notice scents. It made me want to notice what the trees in my area smell like and what my favourite food smells like. Although I subconsciously know scents, I never stop and truly observe. The beautiful lines in this book made me want to notice and bottle up smells that mean something to me.

Our sense of smell is unpredictable. Over the years , it will change, it will age, it will become a receptacle of memory and mystery, and begin, begin to contain a sense of having lived. This is why our record of smell is so important, so that we can remember the way things once were. The way we once were.

Malhotra showcased her writing skills in Remnants of a Separation but it becomes an entity of its own in The Book of Everlasting Things.

As one review put it, "The Book of Everlasting Things can best be described as a novel of details." There is so much detail in every scene that it felt like I living it and not merely reading a person's description of it.

The author makes sure to add tons of details while describing scenes. The beginning of the book was filled with beautiful settings in Lahore—I felt like I was admiring Anarkali Bazaar in person. That time felt like a period of beauty and it made me want to time-travel and visit the Lahore of that time.

The book shows how Lahour was filled with splendour before the Partition—when everything from paper to perfumes was handmade in local shops by skilled artisans and a calligrapher could get custom-made paper filled with the essence of rose. It sounds so different from today, where most things are mass-processed and customized items are hard to get.

Customers come to buy our blends, like Sapna and Amrit, modern renditions of a traditional craft. They come to buy a sensation, a feeling, a transportation, a movement of time, a medium. They come to buy history, memory, dreams, desires, and romance.

When Samir and Firdaus meet, they're 10 and 9 years of age. Both of them are learning traditional arts from their family and are starting to prove themselves as great artists. From the first time their eyes met, their hearts were intertwined.

The romance in the book is toooo cute. It's a slow-burn romance where they only stare at each other and pass notes for years before starting to have full conversations and going out. We get cute moments from when they were kids and heartwarming declarations of love when they're older.

However, the book isn't a romance. The official blurb makes it seem like that but it is not one. When the Partition of India occurs, their lives are separated. In my opinion, the romance was created only to show how much the Partition hurt people and made a divide in lives and communities.

The fight for freedom was diving not just land and people, but also the invisible elements—air and water.

Samir and Firdaus grow up during a time of growing unrest and uncertainty. Many Indians were fighting in someone else's war for the second time with the hope of honour and gaining freedom for their country. Samir's uncle fought in World War 1 and many people from his area signed up to fight in World War 2.

Demands for India's freedom increased along with the idea of a separate country for Muslims. People were taking sides and choices soon led to violence. In between the pages about ittar, naqqashi, and romance, were increasing conversations about the political situation.

The book shows how the Partition was viewed among the commoners—how they began to choose sides, admired leaders of the rebellion, and made freedom a thing about religion. It is heartbreaking to read about how my people so easily descended to hatred and violence and turned on each other, leading to a disastrous outcome.

Diving a country and drawing boundaries is not a simple thing with no repercussions. In the story, we see how it led to chaos, horrific violence, mass exodus, and deaths. Reading these scenes after the opulent days of Lahore hit hard.

The Second World War has imperilled not just land and power, but the essence of humanity. It had stripped millions of their identity, exterminated those who were considered other, and resembled, in misery and misfortune, the days of Hindustan's Partition.

This is a book on the Partition, but only for the first half. See, I hate the blurb so much. It made the book seem like a romance but the story is not. We're told that it's a book on the Partition but that's only up to a point.

While the heartbreak of the Partition is shown throughout the book, we stop seeing India and Pakistan soon after the Partition. We get only a few pages about the countries and life after the Partition before we're whisked away with Samir. The story goes to new shores and in a completely different direction. There is grief but the story stops being about whatever was introduced in the first half.

Honestly, the first half and the second half of the book felt completely different. The first half was about Lahore, romance, and the Partition. The second half was about Samir's journey after the Partition far away from Lahore and the role of Indian soldiers in World War 1.

Most people know about India's contribution to World War 2 but India's part in WW1 is hardly spoken about. The Book of Everlasting Things spends a good chunk of pages on it, talking about why people fought in the "Jarman di larai", what they faced, and how they fared.

Since the actual story happens years after World War 1, the book talks about WW1 as Samir is learning about it. After a while in that direction, I was questioning the point of the book. When that chunk of chapters ended, it felt like I had finished reading a spin-off of the book instead of the actual story.

Perfumery is the only thing that stays throughout the book but in different ways and with different weightages. Sometimes, it's almost permeating the story. Sometimes, it is not there at all. Many times, perfumery is randomly brought up to only say some good quotes.

This is what art did, what music did, what perfume did, it elevated human life during crisis. We were the transporters, we took people somewhere else.

The second half showed that pretty writing does not make a good story. It showed that, without a proper plot and characters who drive their lives, it will fall flat. No great setting or heartache will compensate.

It felt like the author had a bunch of passions and wanted to talk about all of them. The book simply took us from one thing to another to showcase different things but did not make a full story. It was a plot-driven book with no proper plot.

Things happened to the characters and they went along with it without changing the course of their lives through choices. Since the book was more focused on talking about things like perfumery, the Partition, and the Indian soldiers in World War 1, there wasn't space for character growth. At times, we'd understand that a character has changed because of an action but it is a small thing and isn't highlighted at all.

The story spans around 8 decades and multiple countries. It isn't a romance, it isn't a story about the Partition of India, it isn't a story about Indian soldiers in WW1. It is the story of a perfumer's life which happens to intersect with everything else.

I didn't understand or like the book in the second half. It rendered even the first half pointless. It felt like the author forgot that she has to make a coherent story in favour of passionately writing about everything she’s interested in.

I hated the ending of the book. I didn't understand the point of it. A bunch of facts throughout the book alluded to a reveal but it never happened, which makes those things irrelevant. If the story had to come full circle, it could have been done in much better ways.


I had high expectations and was let down. While the writing style was great and highlighted some important topics, it did not impress me as a story. As a novel, it did not have the highs and lows. For me, adding something sad and something happy doesn’t make it lows and highs. It needs to be the same thing that brings happiness, sadness, frustration—everything. This did not have that.

I read novels to be entertained and swept away into an interesting life, or at least to have a satisfying ending, and this gave me neither. (Sorry friend who recommended it to me.)

Instead of everything being crammed into one book, it could have been two related books. It was almost 500 pages long and not worth it. I'm pretty sure I'll forget about it soon.

I don't recommend the book. I read and loved In The Language of Remembering later so it looks like I didn't like only this book by the author so far.

chat with me

Have you read any of Aanchal Malhotra's books? Have you read any other book that had a lot of good elements but didn't work out as a whole?

photo of Sumedha

Sumedha spends her days reading books, bingeing Kdramas, drawing illustrations, and blogging while listening to Lo-Fi music. Read more ➔

Be wordy with me!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  • Yesha says:

    Just reading your review I know this isn’t for me. I would get bored. I hope your next read meets your expectations. Great review!

    Reply ➔