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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 December 2015
Preethi Nair's second novel follows the lives of an Indian mother and daughter in London (with scenes set also in India and Spain) from the 1970s to the present. Maya has a happy childhood in an Indian village, growing up with her mother Nalini and brother Sachin, and various extended family, who support and care for her even after her father leaves the country for a job in London. When the family eventually move to join him in London she's happy there too, living in a big South London house and relishing the strange English food, such as burgers and chips. But then, one day her father disappears, and her mother informs Maya and Sachin that he has died... the family are reduced to poverty, and have to move to a small flat in the East End. Nalini - a resourceful woman, who, it turns out has not told her children the truth about her husband - gets a job and eventually sets up her own business trading in Indian spices, and finds a gentle lover in Ravi, a kind Indian businessman. It seems the family difficulties are over - until a tragedy followed by a shocking revelation leads Maya to realize that her mother has been lying to her for years. Her violent reaction leads her away from England - and her studies in architecture - and to Madrid to work as a fashion designer. It seems she may have cast off her family and her first love, Suri, for good - until some news from Nalini brings her back to confront her past...

As this resume shows, it's a promising story, and there are indeed some good sections. Nair captures Nalini's loneliness, married to an unreliable husband, unable to really communicate with her children, trying to manage by doing the thing she does best (cooking) very well. The scenes involving her friends Maggie and Tom - who have their own secrets - are well written, and Maggie's illness very poignant. There's some good evocations of Indian food, and of the whole Brick Lane area. But all the same - and despite at least one serious tragedy - the novel seemed to me somewhat flimsy and insubstantial. Nair never seemed really interested in exploring why the father behaved as he did, and why Nalini kept lying to her children when she was obviously doing something really risky in choosing this option. I didn't like Maya at all - I found her selfish, loudmouthed and generally irritating, and her refusal to show any understanding for Nalini until the end when (presumably) a trip to India opened her eyes - rather unpleasant. The Madrid scenes were not nearly as detailed and interesting as they could have been, and the Spanish characters all caricatures. The relationship with Suri, though sweet, was also rather predictable. So, all in all, while this was a pleasant and - bearing in mind the subject - surprisingly light read, it didn't leave much of a lasting impression. There are much stronger books out there about the Indian experience in Britain, including Monica Ali's superb 'Brick Lane' and Priya Basil's 'Ishq and Mushq' (which I enjoyed on a second reading).
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on 21 June 2005
I was recommended this book by Amazon and the title in particualr was what attracted me to it.
Basically it's a tale about a family emigrating to England, but things go pear-shaped when the father betrays them and settles in America, leaving a young mother and her two children to fend for themselves in a somewhat hospitable yet hostile London. It particularly focuses on Maya's take on these events and how it shapes her life from her education to relationships until she returns to her roots in her own individual way.
I found the way the author set the chapters out; from the perspective of Maya (the duaghter) and then Nalini (the mother) quite an intersting read. But be warned there's a lot mentioned about Indian food (mainly herbs and spices) and sometimes I was just second guessing at the meaning of some vocab. Although this imagery is often appealing, I found it a little tedious how every emotion and event seemed to encompass vivid culinary descriptions! Often its comic, for example descriptions of Maya's step gran.
Overall it is a good read for immigrants and natives of any land. It gives some familiar and indepth descriptions of the plights and saving graces faced by such communities and also touches on the values of family, friendship, forgiveness, love and suchlike.
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on 14 April 2005
This book is exceptionally beautiful, Preeti Nair is a truly gifted person. I have read many books, but never as descriptive and detailed as this, I found myself living every moment.I could not stop myself from crying, even on the trains.I could relate to some of the these experiences in my own childhood as Amma reminds me very much of my mother, so you can imagine how involved I became with each character. This is an Excellent book and well worth reading.Well done Preeti, I hope that there are many more like this to come.
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on 22 September 2005
I was attracted to this book, partly because of the media hype surrounding the extraordinary means to which the author had to go to get her first novel published; and partly because I welcomed the refreshing concept of a story centred around an Indian family in the UK who were from the south of India in general, and Kerala in particular. The glossy book cover enticed me, decorated with vibrant pictures of iced biscuits and cakes.

Overall, the book was enjoyable and descriptive. One could almost hear the sizzling of mustard seeds and green chillies, and inhale the pungent aromas of lime pickle.

Ms Nair's style of writing is of a good standard, albeit inconsistent. It was interesting to read about the same events being visualized alternately by Nalini and her daughter, Maya.

There are elements of magical realism in the book, although not always convincing, and nowhere near on the scale of such great magical realists as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I had hoped to find something different from the standard themes followed by many writers of stories concerning Asians in Britain, assuming that references would be made towards the southern mentality, and its well-educated people. (It is, for instance, a known fact that Kerala is India's only state with a literacy rate of 100%) However, Ms Nair chose rustic villagers for her characters, coming from conditions rarely to be found in 21st century Kerala.

The characters are well-developed: Nalini displays moxie, as she struggles in a foreign land with an alien culture and language to adapt to a new lifestyle, after her husband has abandoned her and their children. One can understand why she made the controversial decision to cover up his disappearance with a lie, in order to protect her children's honour and sense of self-worth.

One can't help thinking that a glossary would have been helpful. I personally was able to understand the Malayalam terms, and would know the difference between dishes such as aviyal and thoran. However, the lack of a vocabulary list alienates the foreign audience towards whom the book is directed. Many readers would be clueless about some of the expressions used, and would be left to guess at the meaning; thus, they would be unable to appreciate fully certain passages.

Nevertheless, it is an easy book to read, and should be recommended to others; I am looking forward to reading some of Ms Nair's other novels.
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on 6 March 2018
Bought this book once for my parents, who really liked to read it, and especially my dad was deeply moved by the book, so he recommended it to me, to read it too.
It is very touching indeed, and once you got started reading, difficult to put down. It is a heart-warming read about forgiveness, love, family and the way to see life from different perspectives. Understanding, the colours of life, spices and the beauty and comforting aspect of cooking and food and their emotional beautiful impact make this book so deeply cosy to read, despite all the hardship, which is also part of the lives of the main characters.
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on 15 May 2016
I adore this book. Being of Asian background and relating to many of the cultural & non cultural topics, I was captivated. Ms Nair held my interest with colour, vibrancy, twists & turns in the plot. Finding myself laughing one minute, crying the next, added to the occasional 'oooowwww!' & 'no', Nair held my interest and drew out so many emotions. I'm applaud her!
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on 26 May 2006
I am Indian myself and was staggered at the under educated grammar that Preethi Nair uses for a start...I know standards are revoltingly low in Britain but the constant and irritating repeat of the phrase "for Ravi and I" or for "Whoever and I" had me wanting to scream. Yes, I know I'm stressy and need to get a life but Lynne Truss certainly has an ally in me.

The biggest leap we're asked to take however, is to believe that her first and second husbands are, in fact, long lost brothers or something of the sort. I mean, honestly! Even if Nalini didn't recognise her in-laws when they came to look after her new baby with Ravi, surely they would have remembered the servant girl their alleged high born son eloped with?

Preethi Nair, give up writing or band wagon jumping or whatever you call it and concentrate on developing plot, characters and grammar, please!
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on 16 April 2009
It took me 2 goes to get into the story but then I found it enchanting and read it through from start to finish in a weekend. I then read it more slowly a second time and enjoyed it just as much if not more.
I found it well written and enjoyed the way it dipped in and out of the characters lives.
As an Anglo Indian who has lived in England since 1961 when I was 5 it evokes memories of stories told to me by my mother.
I have never been back to India and hope to do so one day soon and see if I get any memories returned of my childhood when I had an Aya to look after me.
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on 10 October 2007
I have bought 7 copies of this book for friends (from teens to grandmas), lent my copy out, recommended it to 3 bookclubs, read it 3 times myself and loved every word written. It was easy to 'get into' compelling to read (I finished it in 4 days the first read) and I loved all of it. I have also read "The Color Indigo/The Color of Love" and enjoyed it too but not as much as this book. I think Preethi is a wonderful author and would highly recommend this book and her others to everyone. I have not had one negative comment about it, on the contrary, everyone that's borrowed mine, has bought themselves a copy to keep!.
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on 10 June 2015
An interesting tale with many twists and turns. The characters were well drawn. A difficult book to put down.
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