Skip to main content

Review: The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan


The Toss of a Lemon opens up in India at the turn of the nineteenth century, when Sivakami, the youngest daughter of a Brahmin family, is ten. Married to Hanumarathnam, a healer, she learns that, upon the birth of a son, he will die two years after. Sivakami has two children: Thangam, the beloved “golden child,” whose life follows a more traditional path, and Vairum, who embraces the traditions of the west as he grows older. As the twentieth century progresses, the two children have families of their own, and Sivakami becomes a respected matriarch in their village. Attached to this family is their servant, Muchami, who comes to them at age 13 and becomes almost a part of the family—even though he is from a different caste. This book is very much about the power that family plays in each character’s life.

The underlying theme of this book, however, is fate, and the title reflects this: lemons are seen as an innocuous instrument of a person's fate (I'm paraphrasing the author here). So many of these characters live their lives according to what is preordained for them in their horoscopes--which aren't always accurate, as it turns out. Each of these characters’ fates is unique, and these are people you come to care about as they grow and develop.

It’s a long novel; at over 600 pages, this book took me a while to read. But that’s not to say that this novel is cumbersome; rather, the opposite. A family saga needs to be this long at least, in order to tell the story properly. And in the end, the effort is worthwhile. The India that Viswanathan describes here is not the India that we’re used to reading about; even the British, whose presence in India was so pervasive, are nearly absent here. Like the little bits of gold that Thangam leaves in her wake, this book is truly magical. Viswanathan is an excellent writer.

Note: I'm having "reader's block" right now, so over the next number of days I'll be going back into my Amazon.com archives to dig up reviews of favorites/ not-favorites. It'll be interesting to see how my reviewing style has grown over the past four years or so!

Also reviewed by: Literary License, Ramya's Bookshelf, Bookopolis

Comments

diana raabe said…
Aha! I'm not the only one who gets "readers' block" which is an interesting way to put it.

Thanks for a fine review of the Viswanathan book. I really enjoy reading Rohinton Minstry and other Indian writers, so I'd probably get into this one.
LisaMM said…
I like Indian writers, too. Jhumpa Lahiri and Rohinton Minstry are favorites.

I looked around your site to try and find your email address, but can't.. could you please email me at LisamunleyATcaDOTrrDOTcom ? I need to ask you a question privately!!
Danielle said…
I didn't realize this was such a long book! I've requested it at the library. It sounds really good, though, so I hope I can manage it on the short check out time they give us!
Matt said…
Despite my frustration with God of Small Things, which I'll try to re-read, I enjoy reading Indian writers. I found their writing excellent and characters etched. I'll have to look for this novel--I like chunkster. :)

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…