In All for Love, the ninth book in the autobiographical series "Continents of Exile," Mehta relives four relationships of his past. There is Gigi the Ballerina, Vanessa the Old Friend from Oxford, Lola the Indian Girl with Perfectly Pleated Saris and Kilty the Youngest One with Mental Issues. This is where one of the problems lies. Mehta turns each woman into a stereotypical case study. The memoir lacks romance. Even the love letters, of which most of the book is comprised, fail to enlighten the reader above Mehta's own self-pity, self-absorption and sometimes even arrogance.
The prologue, on the other hand, barely mentions these women and instead focuses on Mehta's blindness. In the beginning, he invites you into his disability; he describes how he lived as though he could see. Then he completely avoids the subject for almost the entire book. He doesn't even allude to it. In fact, his blindness isn't mentioned again until page 281. I had so many questions throughout the book that I had to re-read the prologue thinking that perhaps the blindness he talked about was metaphorical. It wasn't.
Mehta never explains how he read and wrote his love letters. I assumed someone else did it for him. But why doesn't he give us the details, and more importantly, why doesn't he tell us how his disability affected these four romances? He warns us that these relationships were doomed because his blindness was ignored and never brought to light. But after 35 years, I expected some sort of reflection. I expected him to tell us what he would have done differently.
When he begins to see his psychotherapist, things become clearer. He visits Dr. Bak for two years before he even mentions his blindness. For two years, he bitches about these four women and continues to avoid the obvious. What is the point of writing a book 35 years later if you don't address the important issues in your life?
Granted, he does finally answer some questions. A couple hundred pages later Mehta explains that an assistant read his love letters to him. "Gwyneth saw me struggling day after day with my lethargy and depression in order to write. I ended up dictating some of my most intimate letters to Lola. Still, there was a certain awkwardness--I felt as if I was justifying my conduct to Gwyneth." This explanation was a little too late. I could only wonder why Mehta refused to discuss his blindness throughout the narrative.
What's most frustrating is that Ved Mehta is a great writer. He takes you around the world and all of a sudden you are in his New York apartment, you're walking through the West End of London, you're with him in India's villages: "As Lola and I walked in and out of crowded slums and makeshift dwellings--little more than pieces of corrugated tin for roofs and dirty jute sacks for walls--I talked to thin, wasted women and girls, who would stand for hours in a crowd waiting for the murky trickle that passed for water at the public tap." The attention to details, especially visual ones, in this passage and throughout the book prove Mehta's skill as a writer. He sees more than most writers. Unfortunately, I was constantly aware that he was avoiding his blindness.
Each of the four relationships ends heartbreakingly, and for Mehta to write an entire book about his loss is brave. At times we can feel his anguish, but at other times we have no idea where he is coming from--like when he barges in on Kilty's therapist demanding to know if he convinced her to have their baby.
Of course, it is the beauty of the writing that makes the content, or lack thereof, unbearable. He writes so well that you can't stand the fact that these women were more like possessions for him than anything else. You can't stand the fact that he still refuses to talk about being blind.
It is quite unfortunate that Mehta does not use this book to make sense of his past. All for Love certainly transports you to places, but you hardly get the feeling Ved Mehta is doing anything for love.