Top positive review
on 3 March 2017
Such a rich evocation of life in an Indian surburban family, you feel as if you are part of it. In the 'Feasting' section the parents are a single entity- even their name is written MamaPapa . They sit issuing commands, and this acts as a counterpoint to the downtrodden life of their daughter Uma, who has problems and needs that they blithely ignore. Culturally, the pressure is on the son to get a good education and on the two daughters, to make a good marriage. Uma turns out to be unmarriageable, yet when she is offered 'a little job' by a well-meaning lady doctor, her parents are horrified and forbid it. Her sister meanwhile makes a 'good' marriage: but things do not turn out as you expect.
There is tragicomedy in the figure of Auntie Mira-Masi, who is religiously minded and is constantly in search of her Lord Shiva. Auntie provides some very comic scenes. There is humour, too, in the figure of the 'black sheep ' of the family, Cousin Ramu. When he suggests going out to a restuarant for dinner, MamaPapa are "protesting as furiously as a band of mynahs in the thick of disagreement. " What lovely writing.
The second part, Fasting, is set in the US where brother Arun has been packed off to university by controlling Papa. This part seems like a caricature of all that is worst in western lifestyle: greedy, guzzling,immodest, loud- until you realise it is probably a representation of how Indian families see North American families. The landlady drags Arun on food shopping expeditions and returns to pack the food into the fridges, "the gleaming white caves where the ice whispers secretly to itself." Her rabidly meat-eating family has a bulimic daughter. Arun asks himself how "in this land of licence and plenty," there can be such fasting as the daughter displays. When Arun eventually discovers hippy-style alternative therapies, this seems like an echo of Auntie's search for Shiva. The book ends with Arun donating to his landlady, his family's gifts to him from India: as if to persuade her that their culture is better?