Victoria (Minneapolis MN)
A Pleasant Surprise
To be honest, I had my doubts about this book. At face value the story line appeared simple and I couldn't fathom how the author could draw it out over the course of 600+ pages and entertain the reader all at the same time. But entertain she does. Padma Viswanathan artfully draws together a compelling family saga with the deeply involved Indian caste system, and tops it off with a hint of intrigue and magical realism.
This book is a wonderful read; not too demanding, yet very insightful.
Suggested With: A chaise lounge and a sparkling fruit drink.
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.
Iris (West Bloomfield MI)
The Toss of a Lemon
The Toss of a Lemon is a rich family saga set in India between 1896 and mid 20th century. It is a story of a preadolescent girl who enters into an arranged marriage only to be widowed with two children in her teens. According to the standards of her Brahmin caste, she is condemned to a severely restricted life. The book follows her and subsequent generations of her family. She and the other characters are interesting and well defined, the culture fascinating, and the evolution of the caste system interesting.
For the most part the book was highly engaging, but too much of the time it would drift off and become tedious. While making reference to historical events such as India's independence from Britain, partition and two world wars, they were of little if any significance. There was enough of interest to keep me reading. I feel the book had the potential to be exceptional had it been edited more carefully. As is,I would rate the book at 3 1/2.
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.
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.
Gwendolyn (Houston TX)
A novel to get lost in if you have the time
The Toss of a Lemon is a 600+ page epic about three generations of an Indian family, covering the years 1896 to 1958. The matriarch of the family, a Brahmin widow, scrupulously adheres to the dictates of her caste and rarely leaves the confines of her household. In contrast to the widows sheltered life, her children and grandchildren confront a world in the process of modernization. The rigid boundaries between castes are dissolving, resulting in friction between classes and generations. Despite this charged social and political atmosphere, the home and family remain at the emotional center of this book.
Viswanathan tells this intricate domestic drama with delicacy and precision. Each scene feels necessary, and the plot moves quickly forward through the years. The length of this novel gives Viswanathan freedom to create a richly detailed world populated with well-drawn characters. I enjoyed getting lost in Viswanathans world, but after 600+ pages, I was hoping for more closure at the end of the story. The novels conclusion feels somewhat arbitrary and abrupt. This is a novel to get lost in if you have the time.
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.