The Rice Mother

by Rani Manicka

(This review contains spoilers)

Manicka’s first novel is a big, sprawling, absorbing multigenerational saga set in Malaysia. At the age of 14, Lakshmi is married off to Ayah, a man more than twice her age.  After they crossed the sea from Ceylon to Malaysia, Lakshmi is excited to see a big limo with driver waiting for them.  But the excitement soon turns to confusion as they drive pass a big house without stopping.  Finally, when the limo drops them off at a small house and Ayah takes off his gold watch and gives it to the driver, Lakshmi realizes that her mother has been mislead into thinking that her beloved daughter is married to someone rich. However, Lakshmi is strong and resourceful, trying to keep her six children safe, through the years of Japanese occupation and more.

When I started reading the book, I was curious how the author choose to tell the tale through so many protagonists, though it becomes clear towards the end of the story.  You feel like you are sitting with the different members of the big family under a tree in the courtyard, as each regales his or her own story, and each providing a different interpretation of the same event.  You can’t quite point the finger to say who’s wrong and who’s right.  In the end, you realize that most of them are just basically good but imperfect people who do not want to hurt others, who want to love the ones they care about, but somehow, somewhere, things gone wrong and there is no turning back.  And that’s the saddest of things.  Looking back, they could have made it better, but it’s too late.  Small hatres, small misunderstanding just take hold like a seed in the heart, and grow, and in the end snuff out the life and joy in the heart.   

[SPOILER]

I think the last words of Lakshmi to Ayah sums it up the best.   At his funeral, “she touched her lips to my father’s cold ears, but still I heard her whisper, ‘I ask the boon that in my next life, I am again given the same husband, for it seems I loved him all along.'”  I cried when I read that, and do so again when I type it now.

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Published in: on August 6, 2007 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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