June 30, 2015

Amulya Malladi's "Serving Crazy With Curry" - An Easy and Interesting Read

A simple story that's simply told - Amulya Malladi's "Serving Crazy With Curry". A dear friend of mine brought me a few Indian Literary treats, as she called it, from her recent recent trip to India, and Malladi's novel was one of them. Having read a couple of her other novels, "Sound of Language" being the most recent, I was eager to read this one even though, to my disappointment, it was one of Malladi's earlier writings. "Serving Crazy With Curry" was an easy read, and I enjoyed that since I was on my first week of vacation from school. The simplicity of the reading experience is what I liked most about this novel. 

Though Malladi's picked on the very serious subject of suicide survivors, she gave it a delectable gustatory twist, and that removed all hues of morbidity from the ambiance in which the story unfolds.  The protagonist, Devi, takes to cooking almost as a sort of rehab therapy. What drives her to suicide, and whether her unique rehab works for her is basically what the novel is about.  Malladi's does not explore any profound truth in the novel, neither does she delve into thematic complexities; she focuses on her storytelling interspersed with random sampling of Indian recipes concocted by Devi, the suicide survivor. In fact, the title is quite the give away, but fortunately for the reader and Ms. Malladi, one realizes this only at the end of the novel. There are three other intriguing female characters in the story who, besides being related to Devi, have very unique life styles that add a pulsating readability to the novel; in fact, Ms. Malladi's could very easily spin another story around any one of these three women!

Malladi's novels have always been my favorites when I'm looking for a light read, and "Serving Crazy With Curry" fit the bill.

June 29, 2015

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's "Sister of my Heart"

Which one comes first to a writer, the theme or the story? I always imagine it's the story that is born first; the theme is embedded almost subconsciously by the storyteller.  However, is that always the case?  And when it isn't, does that impact the quality of the end product, be it a short story, a novel, or a drama?
Divakaruni's novel "Sister of my Heart" may be a good case study. I started reading this novel with a very definitive set of expectations: it would have a page turning quality, a unique setting, some very plausible characterization, and an element of surprise. Divakaruni delivered on all of those expectation but with somewhat of an effort and delivered only to a degree. She spun an engrossing story about two close but very different cousins, who are born and raised in Kolkata, the setting of the story, and they make some baffling choices and live out the consequences of those choices in the stranglehold of familial pressures in a caste and gender biased society.
I started reading the novel one afternoon and finished it in two sittings. However, even as I was a third of the way into the novel, I already knew what to expect! There was an underlying desperation on the part of the writer to make the characters fit into the bigger storyline, and sadly it was evident at times. For example, when Sudha sacrifices her love, Ashoka, and consents to an arranged marriage after she overhears her cousin's to-be mother-in-law's threatening stance on families who violate social norms. The scene was so obviously coined to fit in! With one deliberate stroke the author simultaneously makes Sudha and Anju victims of a caste-based and patriarchal society. What follows is that which is expected. One of the victims then picks up on Ms. Divakaruni's other pet theme, the quest for the American dream, and moves to the United States, the land of freedom where she pursues a college education and even finds herself a part time job, the latter, obviously, without her husband knowing.
Having read several of Divakaruni's novels, and as a fan of her writings, I was let down by this one.