Wednesday, July 17, 2013
In her latest novel, Indira Ganesan, a writer often likened to Arundhati Roy and Chitra Divakaruni (see back of jacket for reviews), gives us an enchanting story of family life that is a dance of love and grief and rebirth set on a gorgeous island in the Indian Ocean.
The island is filled with exotic flora and fauna and perfumed air. A large family compound is presided over by a benign, stalwart grandmother. There is a very tall South Asian heroine with the astonishing un-Indian name of Meterling, who has found love at last in the shape of a short, round, elegant Englishman who wears white suits. There are also numerous aunts, uncles, and young cousins—among them, Mina, grown now, and telling this story of a marriage ceremony that ends with a widowed bride who, in the midst of her grief, discovers she is pregnant.
While enjoying their own games and growing pains, Mina and her young cousins follow every nuance of gossip, trying to puzzle out what is going on with their favorite aunt, particularly when the groom’s cousin arrives from England and begins to woo her. As Meterling—torn between Eastern and Western ideas of love and family, duty and loyalty—struggles to make a new life, we become as entranced with this family, its adventures and complications, as Mina is.
And with her we celebrate a time and place where, although sometimes difficult, life was for the most part as sweet as honey.
I found this book compulsively readable. It was sent to me to review for my honest opinion, so here goes... It reminded me of someone talking to the reader who has ADHD. Just when you think you are tracking with the story line, it goes off on another tangent. At the same time there were so many cultural elements, foods, and interpersonal issues in the book, I couldn't help being interested. Some of the cultural stuff I got a bit lost with (like the legends related to Indian culture) but overall, I found it hard to put down.
The writing was interesting, and at times beautiful. The point of view was a bit convoluted because it seemed like most of story was being told by Mina, but at the same time it was impossible for her to be some of the places with Meterling. So she was sort of an omniscient POV, but not completely. I've never read a book quite like it. Once in awhile the author slipped in Simon's point of view, too. So while it was a tad odd to follow, I got used to it soon enough. The ghost thing was exceptionally weird, but again, still interesting.
Clearly this story was fiction, but I enjoyed reading it for the most part. I was never bored. Not once. Confused, maybe. But not bored. So for that, I give it four stars, but overall it was more of a three and a half star book. Three was nothing remotely Judeo-Christian about this book, but it was not offensive to me. I feel like I learned something about people from the Island of Pi in the Indian Ocean who did not like being referred to as people from India, but at the same time they were part of that culture. Kind of like people from Hawaii being American, but Polynesian at the same time. I enjoy learning about cultures I know very little about.
As Sweet as Honey was published by Knopf and released in February 2013.