In a nutshell
“In this house, our Rice Mother is your grandmother. She is the keeper of dreams. Look careafully and you will see, she sits on her wooden throne holding all our hopes and dreams in her strong hands, big and small, yours and mine. The years will not diminish her.”
Those words, describe indomitable Lakshmi, who left her family when she was 14, and moved from Ceylon to Kuantan with her new husband, Ayah, who’s twice her age. She gave birth to a child every year until she is 19. Lakshmi survived the nightmare of the Japanese invasion by sheer determination, but her family bore deep scars and inturn inflicted those wounds on the next generation.
This novel, spanning a period of 85 years over 4 generations, chronicles her life (mainly) and her family’s. This spellbinding novel is a page turner.
What I liked
The pace, the flow, the shape, the tone. Everything! Every page, every word, is a gem. The voice she lent to each character (whom each told their story), is so real. Their emotions, so raw and tender. It felt like these stories, kept so close to their hearts, that when unlocked, felt like opening old wounds; it has to be done gently.
Her ability to capture the conflict of human emotions with so much honesty, I felt, was simply amazing, especially when dealing with selfishness and righteousness.
This is when Lakshmi found out her best friend, Mui Tsai, has been breastfeeding her child. (p.60)
“Where was the harm if she fed my baby? My breasts remained parched and hers rich and plentiful for many weeks to come. So it was Mui Tsai’s small, undeveloped breasts that Anna’s little pink mouth suckled. It is a strange thing, motherhood. It gives and takes away so much. I should have been grateful but I wasn’t. Even though I did not say anything I wasn’t big enough to let the matter pass.
I built a low wall between us.”
Was Lakshmi wrong in doing so? Was it Mui Tsai’s fault in the first place?
One of my favourite characters is Ayah. I fell in love with him when Lakshmi described him here (p.39):
“My husband was solicitous to a degree that made me want to scream. He would worriedly enquire after me every morning and every night, and wait for my answer expectantly as if I might say something other than, ‘I’m just fine.’ For nine months it never crossed his mind not to ask worriedly and wait expectantly for my reply. He refused to let me walk to the market and would insist on going himself.”
I loved how it was narrated. So simple, yet it says so much. It had showed not only her husband’s love for her, but hers for him as well.
The paragraphs were long, but the story telling was so smooth that you’d just want to read more. Not a word wasted! And I loved how she depicted the different cultures, superstitions and beliefs. It showed that she respected each of them and not merely writing it for the sake of writing it.
Yes, this is a very sad and dark story. Be prepared to love the imperfections of its characters. Be prepared to be crushed. Be prepared to cry. Be prepared for the shocking truths and ugly pictures that’d haunt you.
My verdict? 4.5/5
If you’ve not read this book, please go get a copy. This one’s a keeper (unless you’re not one who likes family drama). Another title added to my list of all-time fav reads:
1) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2) Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah
3) The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
Book bite: Rani’s mother is the core inspiration for whom she says that ‘My library was in my mother’s head.’ Her mother’s dinner time stories are the backbone of the stories of her novels.