ebook, 310 pages.
Read from March 07 to 21, 2016.
So let me get this straight, I’m actually supposed to like and sympathize with the characters in this book? Because that didn’t happen.
Sripathi is a middle aged man living a life of regret. He has a wife and two children; his son, Arun, is an environmentalist and protester who doesn’t work, while his daughter Maya, is accepted into a prestigious school in Canada. Unfortunately for Sripathi, Maya ends up breaking off an arranged engagement in order to marry a Canadian she falls in love with. Sripathi disowns his daughter after she breaks off her engagement, which brought him and his family shame, and has not talked to her since. Sadly, Maya and her husband die in car crash leaving their only child Nandana behind, and with Sripathi listed has her caregiver in the couples will. Having never met his granddaughter and having to deal with the death and guilt he feels about his own daughters death, Sripathi must try to deal with his feelings and do what is best for the child.
I understand that aspects of the Indian culture don’t do favors to either men and women in terms of what is expected of them but I still couldn’t sympathize with the characters and their choices. Sripathi failed to live up to the unattainable expectations, social standings and dreams that his mother, Ammayya set out for him. Ammayya is an extremely bitter and skeptical woman who was cheated on by her husband before he died and left her and her family with no money. When Sripathi didn’t become a doctor, her resentments transferred to him. She is a horrible person who manipulates her family and never lets go or forgives. Sripathi, never gets over the expectations laid on him and never learns to deal it so he lives a shallow and disconnected life. His unwillingness to let go resulted in him not being able to forgive Maya before she died. Maya appeared to be the only person in the book that lived her own life and made her own choices successfully and admirably. Let me break this down:
Arun: Son of Sripathi. He spends his time at rallies and protests and doesn’t do a thing to help support the home he lives in. Sripathi is annoyed with him over this and I completely understand. Sripathi doesn’t understand his son until the end of the book and Arun doesn’t understand Sripathi’s frustration until the end of the book.
Putti: Sripathi’s unmarried sister and daughter to Ammayya. Probably the only character I sympathized with. She is in her 40s and is unmarried, which in this culture, means she is still living with her family as she is unable to support herself. The reason is because of her horrible and selfish mother refuses all suitors so that she can keep Putti to herself and have her take care of her. Putti is secretly in love with the milk man but he is of a lower caste than her so Ammayya would never allow it.
Ammayya: Mother to Sripathi and Putti. Bitter and ancient old, she has never forgiven her deceased husband or Sripathi for failing her. There is sympathy to be had for how her husband treated her, but her choices and actions after his death are disgusting. She over-dramatizes everything and pretty much makes Putti her personal slave. She snoops through her family’s belongings for money to steal and items worth selling. I wanted her to die the entire book.
Nirmala: Is Sripathi’s wife. While she is initially portrayed as the typical passive Indian wife, after the death of Maya she finally decides to start taking charge and doing things for herself. She grieves immensely for Maya and blames Sripathi for everything. She puts all of her energy into caring for Nandana when she arrives.
Sripathi: Son of Ammayya. Never met the ridiculously high expectations of his mother. He dropped out of medical school to become a copywriter. He enjoys writing snarky opinion letters to the editor in his own time and is responsible financially for all of the above characters on his modest income. He is angry and distant from his family.
Lovely cast of characters right? Not. While each of them have moments of growth and softness it was still a challenge to get involved in their stories. I believe the point of this novel is to focus on the failures and triumphs of everyday people and everyday lives but it just didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t connect to culture or the characters. I did enjoy the chapters in which Sripathi was recollecting on his strict childhood as it gave me a better understanding about why he and his family acted the way that they did, but some how it wasn’t a good enough excuse.
In our own lives, we experience setbacks, failures and regrets but ultimately they make us stronger, that is, if we are making choices in our own best interest and not in the interest of others. Which, appears to be the failing of the culture where this book is set unfortunately. To me, this book is exactly what not to do. Sripathi waited until his mid-fifties to forgive and start living! You could say that it’s never too late to do that, but I don’t believe that: Ammayya died not forgiving anyone and lived a miserable life and Sripathi lost his daughter before he had a chance to forgive.
Additionally, I felt that the author missed some pinnacle emotional moments. The time that Sripathi spent in Vancouver is short and void of emotion. I also felt that Nandana’s side of the story was lacking but perhaps it’s because she is truly the only one to feel sorry for in this book. The book’s climax and related title, I also felt, were weak.
I suppose for those that understand some of traditions and difficulties of Indian culture, they may have a better time relating and sympathizing with this book but for me, the detached characters and lack of certain emotional elements made it too challenging for me to fully engage with.
In terms of Canada Reads, each of the character did start over. Well except for Ammayya, as she died, but that’s okay. If you read the book, you’ll hate her too. So I guess in terms of the theme this book checks all the right boxes but I don’t believe this book is the best candidate so far.