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The Toss of a Lemon

by Padma Viswanathan

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan X
The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2008
    640 pages
    Genre: Novels

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The story depicts the real India.
Donna Lynn Edwards

Impressive Inspirational Journey
Padma Viswanathan has written an impressive inspirational journey of a fictional Brahmin family that spans three generations. Be prepared however, for diminutive details that encompass 616 pages, as the author describes life in India from 1896 to1962.

The Toss of a Lemon is based on the stories told to her by her grandmother and re-created in the character of Sivakami. This woman is widowed at eighteen with two small children, thereafter, she is subjected to the strict rules governed by her caste. Unable to leave the house, unable to be touched from dawn to dusk, unable to remarry I can’t imagine how she feels at her age. Further, she must wear white and have her head shaved by an untouchable.

What a powerful woman she is. I love Sivakami because she is such a paradox as supplicant to her caste, yet defiantly disregarding caste rules in to raise her grandchildren. In a patriarchal society this takes strength, endurance and courage. She is a remarkable character. Padma’s grandmother must be pleased and proud that her stories have new life. If you enjoy a book with a strong heroine or love historical epics this would appeal to you.

I felt the subject of the caste system was a missed opportunity for more in depth teaching. There is an assumption at times that the reader has an above average understanding of Indian social and cultural life. This would be an ideal reading group novel with a study guide. Brilliantly written by a debut novelist with tremendous talent.

The Toss of a Lemon
It was with great reluctance that I turned the last pages of The Toss of a Lemon. This rich and deftly written novel captures the lives of members of a conservative Brahmin family living in a small village in southern India. I was completely captivated with the world Viswanathan created in this novel. I’m partial to novels about India, and The Toss of a Lemon far exceeded my expectations. Readers of Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry and Manil Suri will enjoy this novel.

Sweeping Novel about Change in India
I enjoyed this sweeping novel of India in the 20th century as experienced by members of one family. Caught between ancient traditions and the beginning of the new India, the family must learn new ways of being a family. Most interesting to me was the theme of the unfairness of the caste system and the place of women in Indian society. Two of the main characters are women and much of the novel's events revolve around them and their reactions to changing social and cultural traditions.Overall the book paints a compelling portrait of a family in changing times in India or anywhere in the world. The book was also a fascinating telling of customs and culture of India. A book club would find much to talk about here, but it is to be enjoyed by anyone who loves a long read about another country.

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.

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. Viswanathan’s 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.

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 can’t put the book down. The cast of characters has an intensity and vividness that never waives. Viswanathan’s writing style is excellent and the story flows as all good stories should. I highly recommend this book.

Highly Recommended
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 son’s birth clinches Sivakami’s 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 India’s social values are changing offers a variety of topics for book club members to ponder.
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