Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TOSS OF A LEMON by Padma Viswanathan

Viswanathan, Padma. The Toss of a Lemon. Canada: Random House Canada, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-15-101533-7.

To begin, I would not necessarily consider The Toss of a Lemon a young adult novel. I don’t believe that was the author’s intention, nor would it be appropriate for most high school students. As a former teacher, I can think of a select few girls who would absolutely love it, and many more for whom it would be obtuse, irrelevant, and difficult to engage.

The third-person-omniscient narrative style initially seems detached, as if I, the reader, am too far away, too far removed, from the action. The book is 640 pages, so if the action is slow to start, I suppose I can forgive! By the end, I felt like the characters were part of my own family, and I certainly stopped feeling so far away from the action on the pages.

At heart, the story is a generational saga. Sivikami, a young Brahmin girl, is married at 10, widowed at 18, and spends the rest of her life as an orthodox Brahmin widow: wearing only two white saris, shaving her head, and not appearing in public from dawn to dusk. She raises her two children, then her daughter’s brood of six children, who bear their own children by the end of the novel. Born in 1896, Sivikami deals with the problem of changing times in India, particularly Indian independence and the end of Brahmin social prominence.

The Toss of a Lemon will disappoint those looking for fast-paced narration, a quick-moving story, or suspense. But for readers looking for an experience, a way to immerse themselves in a different culture, The Toss of a Lemon is an excellent read. The meandering narrative, rich in cultural information, characterization, and description, is easy to put down, but just as easy to pick up again. It’s an ideal bedtime read.

Reviewed by Marisa Behan

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