Monday, August 18, 2008

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan (a review)

4 out of 5: 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 widow’s 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 Viswanathan’s world, but after 600+ pages, I was hoping for more closure at the end of the story. The novel’s conclusion feels somewhat arbitrary and abrupt. The Toss of a Lemon is a novel to get lost in if you have the time.

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