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The Toss of a Lemon


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Viswanathan's enormous first novel spans 66 years--from 1896 to 1962--in the life of one Tamil family. The matriarch of the clan, Sivakami, a Brahmin, was married at ten and widowed at 18. Already a mother of two, Sivakami was determined to set a pious example. This meant that she shaved her head, wore only white, and touched no one, not even her children or grandchildren, between dusk and dawn. What's more, she obeyed the custom of staying inside her home, venturing outdoors only three times in the many decades before her death. Sivakami's proscribed world is portrayed in amazing detail, and the life of the Brahmin elite is vividly captured. Unaccountably, the book fails to mention Gandhi--a prominent figure in this era--making the political landscape somewhat incomplete. This is especially odd since social change forms the backdrop of Viswanathan's sweeping narrative. Still, the portrait she paints is dazzling. Gender rules, class relations, and the political castes of late 19th- and early to mid-20th-century India are well presented, making this an important work of historical fiction. Highly recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/08.]--Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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