In Sensorium: Notes for My People (Hardcover)
A 2022 Kirkus Prize Winner for Nonfiction
Fragrance has long been used to mark who is civilized and who is barbaric, who is pure and who is polluted, who is free and who is damned—
Focusing their gaze on our most primordial sense, writer and perfumer Tanaïs weaves a brilliant and expansive memoir, a reckoning that offers a critical, alternate history of South Asia from an American Bangladeshi Muslim femme perspective. From stories of their childhood in the South, Midwest, and New York; to transcendent experiences with lovers, psychedelics, and fragrances; to trips home to their motherland, Tanaïs builds a universe of memories and scent: a sensorium. Alongside their personal history, and at the very heart of this work, is an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded, a land still threatened and disappearing because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change.
Structured like a perfume—moving from base to heart to head notes—IN SENSORIUM interlaces eons of South Asian perfume history, erotic and religious texts, survivor testimonies, and material culture with memoir. In Sensorium is archive and art, illuminating the great crises of our time with the language of Liberation.
TANAÏS is the author of In Sensorium, and the critically acclaimed novel Bright Lines, which was a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize. They are the recipient of residencies at MacDowell, Tin House, and Djerassi. An independent perfumer, their fragrance, beauty and design studio TANAÏS is based in New York City. Follow them on Instagram at @studiotanais.
The 2022 Kirkus Prize Winner for Nonfiction * An NPR "Books We Love for summer 2022" * A Shondaland's "May's Must-Read Books by Asian American Authors" —
"We selected In Sensorium by Tanaïs as the winner of the 2022 Kirkus Nonfiction Prize for its daring, inventiveness, vision, and lyrical eloquence. Using the framework of fragrance and scent, the author's work confronts aspects of our society related to women, gender, and people of color. Seductive, vital, and incomparable, this is a reading experience that endures." — Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction Panel
"This memoir from writer and perfumer Tanaïs is as ambitious as it is wide-ranging, telling the story of their experience as an American Bangladeshi Muslim femme moving around the world in a wise and engaging manner that asks deeply relevant questions about queerness, gender, colonization and South Asian identity." — Vogue
"(In Sensorium) is, in short, the balm we have always needed." — Harper's Bazaar
"In Sensorium is a potently beautiful testimonial of feeling, touching, and breathing beyond the boundaries of empire, patriarchy, and the rule of law. It is a love story for all of us who not only live on the margins, but make magic there. With remarkable sensitivity and frankness, Tanaïs has given us an unforgettable, wise, and sumptuous story. This book will be with me for a very long time." — Imani Perry, author of Breathe and South to America
"In Sensorium does to the senses, particularly smell, what Toni Cade Bambara did to sound. I have never come close to experiencing a book that reminds us to accept the calcified histories and fluid futures deeply packed in our senses. What an absolutely unique and momentous book! Tanaïs has made a book only they could write, and my body is so, so thankful. Stunning work." — Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division and Heavy
"Novelist and perfumer Tanaïs blends in this beautiful work memoir, history, and notes on perfuming to interrogate love, violence, and generational healing. Throughout, rich imagery and language are married as Tanaïs moves through their ancestral trauma to discover a place of healing...Readers will find more than just their olfactory senses heightened by this beautiful meditation." — Publishers Weekly
"A lyrical memoir, sensuous and sensual, that crosses decades and continents...Tanaïs, author of the acclaimed novel Bright Lines, brings a millennial sensibility—and a rejection of outmoded mores—to their work as a sharp observer of the world. Refusing old binaries, they move freely among peoples who are bitterly divided...A heady pleasure of language in love with the author’s many subjects, and perfectly suited to them." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"To read In Sensorium is to be made as aware of the sensuousness of place, time, and body... It brings the past and the present into being, beyond the boundaries of knowing, and lingers like scent on the skin." — Guernica
"Through a series of investigations into the origin and capture of notable scents throughout history, In Sensorium takes us through the ambitious project of mapping scents to Tanäis’s own history and the histories and connections that come from their own embodied experience as an American Bangladeshi Muslim femme." — The Cut
"In Sensorium works, like perfuming itself, to 'reconstruct silence into sensuous experience,' challenging what Tanaïs calls the patramyth—those 'foundational lies and mythologies recorded in history to protect the powerful.'" — Literary Hub
"As a devout memoir enthusiast, I can honestly say I’ve never read a book like this: pieces of life strung together through senses and stimuli. In Sensorium is robust, assured and sacrosanct." — Autostraddle
"In In Sensorium, Tanai¨s paints an evocative scentscape traversing forgotten histories" — Vogue India
"Lyrical, expansive, aching, and alive, In Sensorium invites us to behold and be humbled, to boldly redraw the old maps, to not only recover what has been erased, but to wildly create what has never been and is forever possible. 'I write to imagine freedom, even though I write in the language of power.' In this book, language is a portal and language is a world and language is a syncretic invention. Kaleidoscopic in scope, each page unfolds into a dazzling spiral as Tanaïs weaves personal histories into the history of Bangladesh and South Asia. These meditations on ancestral violence, war, the feminine divine, scent, erotic dreamscapes, rage, belonging, beauty, liberation and familial inheritances pulse with voluptuous longing. This work requires attention and deep devotion." — Jenny Zhang, author of Sour Heart and My Baby First Birthday
Structured like the base, heart, and head notes of a perfume, Tanaïs’ deeply intimate new book is no ordinary memoir. Expertly weaving their own personal narrative together with an incisive cultural history of fragrance, the writer and perfumer’s genre-defying work offers a truly multi-sensory reading experience. — Harper’s Bazaar, "The Best Beach Reads of 2022"
"With bold and lyrical language, this singular sensorium is structured like a perfume with base, heart and head notes. It interlaces South Asian history with personal history, diasporic longing with homeland love, and ancestral trauma with present-day crises. Well-researched explorations of eroticism in ancient religions, the violence of British colonialism and South Asian patriarchal cultures, and capitalism-induced environmental damage are synthesized artfully with intensely personal revelations about love, sex, liberation, selfhood and healing." — Jenny Bhatt for NPR
"The book is ultimately a sundial—a totem of light and shadow that changes gradually the longer you look at it. In Sensorium is a way of organizing time—the history of a people, a place, a family, a life—guided by scent and the essence of memory." — BOMB Magazine
"Tanaïs’s writing is not unlike a perfume itself—setting out histories and mythologies of the powerful as base notes, exploring the experiences of women and femmes in the heart notes, and creating fragrances as transportive mediums for pilgrimage and knowledge as the top notes." — The Nation