The Strength of One Woman
I've always been fascinated with India and watching shows on PBS, but this 600+ page novel involved me intimately in the lives of Sivakami and her family and taught me much about colonial times in India and the fight for independence.
Widowed at age 18, Sivakima used her strength to survive by going against accepted mores to lead 2 generations of her Brahmin family, even as the caste system was undergoing great changes in its outmoded provincial prejudices and superstitions. I gave this book a 5, but I felt it was a little long and lagged in the center, however the beginning and the last third were riveting . Having an Appendix with the Family Tree and perhaps more translations of Indian words would have been an aid to me, too. Upon finishing the book, I felt an emptiness at having to say goodbye and leave Sivakami's extended family.
Rated of 5
by Laura (Houston TX)
A Luminescent View of a Rarely Seen India
Padma Viswanathan's debut novel is so heartbreaking and engaging that I would challenge anyone not to read it in one sitting (all 640 pages!). Each character is so richly drawn that whether the reader loves the character or not, she will surely want to find out his fate.
A reader doesn't have to have a particular interest in India in order to enjoy this book; in fact, I fit into this category. I was fascinated by the intricate details and even the strange beauty of the turn of the century caste system, even while I was, at times, almost repulsed by its strictures.
This book is an ideal selection for book clubs, lovers of family sagas, those who desire to know more about the Indian caste system, or anyone who loves a good, lyrically written story. To call this book a beach read would almost demean it, but it is a book to get lost in, and that is the highest recommendation I can give it.
Rated of 5
by Wendy (Riverside CA)
Highly Recommended The Toss of a Lemon is a poignant and engaging novel about Sivakima and her family, crossing over generations and touching on a part of India's history during the first half of the 20th century. Padma Viswanathan's novel is rich in cultural detail and her characters are well drawn, complex and real in every way. It is not a book that can be read quickly, but rather is one that needs to be savored.
Rated of 5
by Muneeb (St Louis MO)
An incredible read
This was an incredible read. Viswanathan's writing is good writing: informed, tight, vivid. It's a rich, beautiful, and poetic epic story. I recommend this historical novel to all who enjoy the heft of a great piece of literature.
Rated of 5
by Cathy (Rancho Palos Verdes CA)
I was fascinated by the mystery, magic and cosmic inevitability that pervades this family saga. The toss of a lemon hurled at the exact moment of her sons birth clinches Sivakamis destiny to become a young Brahman widow and has repercussions that reverberate through future generations.
The elaborate descriptions of everyday life immerses the reader in Brahman culture the food, rituals, superstitions and religious observances are all presented in painstaking detail. The pace of novel, while sometimes a bit tedious, results in well-developed characters that provide a keen insight into human nature. The family dynamics that evolve during a time when Indias social values are changing offers a variety of topics for book club members to ponder.
Rated of 5
by Colleen (Lakewood CO)
The Toss of a Lemon
Padma Viswanathan has written a superb novel. She takes us to a time and place where we are consumed with the story of the lives of a Brahman family through several generations. She tells you of their successes and disappointments, their good times and bad times and you just cant put the book down. The cast of characters has an intensity and vividness that never waives. Viswanathans writing style is excellent and the story flows as all good stories should. I highly recommend this book.
Rated of 5
by Aleta (Bainbridge Island WA)
Fate, Faith and Family The Toss of a Lemon is a swim through southern Indian culture, religion, politics and social change in the early to mid-20th century. The lifelong experiences and relationships of Sivakami, a teenaged Tamil Brahmin widow, her extended family and servants depict in detail the hardships and comforts of a rigid, yet evolving system of expectations, limitations, privileges and taboos. The embedded history lesson is considerable.
The characters are well developed as a fine blend of strengths and weaknesses whose complexity is believable, and provides impetus past a few stalls in the book's pace. Viswanathans imagery is lovely, even haunting.
Having a modest understanding of India, I wonder if a glossary would help a less familiar reader? The more one knows of India, the richer the novel becomes. Nevertheless, for anyone who enjoys the depth of a well-spun tale of life in another place and time, this is an excellent choice.
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