The Days Toppled Over is “a story of resilience, unconventional love, and unlikely friendship”, focusing on a very underrepresented experience in Australian fiction: that of international students, informed by Vidya Madabushi’s own experience as a student living in Sydney. Penguin Books Australia was kind enough to send me a copy for review.
The story is set across two perspectives and location: that of Malli, in Bangalore (at least, in the beginning), and her brother Surya, studying in Sydney. I’ll admit, here and now, that my favourite character in The Days Toppled Over is Malli, so I found myself looking forward to her chapters the most.
She’s just so fascinating! In addition to being highly observant and ritualised in her habits, she also lives with Selective Mutism. Malli hasn’t spoken out loud to another person for fifteen years. She still looks forward to weekly calls from Surya, though, and communicates her side of the conversation with taps on the phone.
The inciting incident of The Days Toppled Over is Surya missing one of these calls. Malli is panicked, as it’s the first he’s ever missed in the years he’s been living and studying in Sydney. Days pass without a word from him; she doesn’t know where he works, or the contact details of any of his friends, so there’s no one she can contact for help. In desperation, she reaches out for help on a Missing Persons website – and that’s when Nayan contacts her. He’s an odd duck, all past lives and astral families and woo, but he’s kind and thoughtful and offers to travel with her to Sydney to track Surya down.
This is a rich and insightful debut, one that really forced me to think hard about the challenges faced by students I’ve shared classrooms with in the past. I loved Malli’s character, and I also got quite a kick out of several familiar settings (even my own street!) featured throughout the narrative. I really hope The Days Toppled Over triggers some important conversations about how we treat the people we invite to Australia to work and study.