“A mainstream, multi-ethnic, world literature book from India… a sometimes wry, sometimes sad, but ultimately realistic look at how superstition and the colour of a girl’s skin rules India’s hinterlands.”
Review by Carol Kean
What a rare treat – an e-book that is beautifully written, polished and full of substance! The narrative voice hooked me from page one. So calmly, with no question that this is just the way life is, teenage Pullamma reports the terrible things her own relatives say to her. Not a hint of whining or self pity – just a wry, honest, clever depiction of her world. And what a world! I had no idea that small towns in India as recently as the 1980s remained so Old World in their thinking. A corrupt politician can pluck a girl from the village, declare her a goddess, and get hoards of people to wait in line to seek her help and lavish her with gifts they can’t afford? It’s as mind-boggling as the arranged marriages, the attitudes. Their conventional wisdom is shocking, archaic, ignorant, or superstitious, to a modern American. Yet for all the “backwards” or inhumane customs, the humanity of every character shines through in this novel. Every line of dialogue, especially in the opening scenes, is authentic, memorable and incisive. It’s also both laugh-out-loud comical yet heartbreaking. This is no small achievement for any writer.
Page after page, new plot twists arise, new surprises. Rasana Atreya is the master of “torture your protagonist.” I do see why other reviewers complain about a soap-opera quality to the perils of Pullamma, but I suspect the escalating horrors are, unfortunately, believable. It may be impossible to believe a smart woman, a good man, could become so trapped–unless you consider the culture they live in. Modern Americans apparently have no concept of honor as they see it. The best example of it in American literature may be “The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James, in which a young American woman is given the freedom to marry anyone she chooses–and when she makes the worst possible choice, she *chooses* to live with the consequences rather than just run away and start over again.
As another reviewer wrote, “…tradition, honor, and respect for elders can create a stranglehold which chokes courage. When reading books set in a culture different from your own, remember to be mindful that those differences can seem alien to your own understanding.”
This dazzling first novel from Rasana Atreya leaves me eager to read more of her work.