Saturday, September 17, 2005

Book Review: The Hottest Day of the Year by Brinda Charry

I read this book in a day! The story is set in a really small town in Tamil Nadu, India, called, "Thiruninravur". Our protagonist, eleven-year-old Nithya, is sent from Bangalore to live with her Aunt and Uncle in this town for six months while her mother joins her father who is working in Kuwait. Having come from the noisy, bustling city of Bangalore, Nithya is bored out of her mind in this one-horse town. She dislikes the small-mindedness and inquisitiveness of the neighbors, the long, boring days with the "nothing to do" evenings (where even a tractor stepping over and crushing 2 bags full of chillies is such a spectacle that everyone leaves their homes to 'watch'), where men and women have well-defined roles with the women restricted to the home. Her only companion is twenty-year old Sudha who is employed by her aunt and Uncle to help with the house work.

THe main characters in this novel may not be that easy to relate to, but they are quite believable---Janaki, the aunt, is stoic to start with, keeping a very low profile, playing out her role of a young Indian widow just as society expects her to, but there is a streak of independence in her that refuses to be suppressed.

, the young house-help, who is a budding beauty. Her beauty and youth don't go unnoticed for long and soon she captures the attention of Sunder, her employer. Given her status, I am sure she feels privileged to share his bed, however, like all women, I am sure she thought that one day he would perhaps marry her. When things don't turn out as she expects, the story starts to reach its climax.

, our protagonist's uncle and Janaki's brother, performs his patriarchal duties by giving shelter to his widowed sister and to his niece. He does so uncomplainingly but detachedly. It is hard to know if he just 'used' Sudha for his own pleasure or if he really cared for her.

Nithya is our extraordinary
protagonist whom I have already introduced.

This was an easy uncomplicated read mainly due to the fact that it was narrated by an 11-year old. Even though it had some exciting twists and turns, the entire novel radiates a sense of dreamy languorous charm and oh, of incredible and not-able-to-move-a-limb heat.

This book would be a popular book club choice because there are a number of cultural issues that can be discussed at length: The role and treatment of widows in India, the Indian caste system and how it predetermines one's place in society, the pros and cons of living in a small town, suicide, the merits and demerits of a patriarchal society and many more.

A note about the author, Brinda Charry:

A native of Bangalore, India, Brinda Charry teaches "Writing and English" at Syracuse University in upstate New York, where she is pursuing her doctorate in English Lit.