Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tell a Thousand Lies...And See What Happens

This week I'm happy to review Rasana Atyeya's hard-to-tear-the-eyes-from first novel, which was shortlisted  for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize in 2012.  Tell a Thousand Lies  traces the dizzying fallout when traditional Indian marriage plans run afoul of a rebellious young bride and a malignant politician.
Available as paperback and ebook
16-year old Pullama may be considered ineligible for marriage because of her tall frame and dark skin, but she's more shocked than anyone in the village to find herself being worshiped as a goddess.   (It's exhausting, sitting in state on that bumpy silver chair.)  She is not the rebellious bride, however--her twin sister Latta is.
The twins' grandmother, Ammamma, ably pulls off a trifecta by arranging marriages for all three of her granddaughters, despite her poverty and the demands of dowry--the goal of Pullama's marriage to the dreamy and long-suffering Srikar being to rescue her from the goddess setup orchestrated by the dastardly politician Kondal Rao.
Scheming is the MO of all the characters in the novel. Mayhem springs forth, from kidnappings to blackmail to revelations of secret relatives to forced husband-swapping. From beginning to end, the power volleys between  level-headed Pullama, the borderline Latta, and the buffoonish politico, Kondal Rao.  Ammamma's nuanced, complex, but settled character provides the reader with a welcome breather from all that intensity.
The story's precipitating event is Latta's desertion of a wildly inappropriate husband --or, wait, is it actually fired off by Latta's out-off-wedlock pregnancy, or does it result from the twins' older sister Malli's "bridal viewing," in which a prospective bride is displayed for the first time to the groom's family? --In a book this crammed with calamitous events, it's hard to keep track of them all.
I found myself  unable to stop reading, even as I complained about the book's relentless pace and the unconvincing, puppeteer villain. I'm still not sure whether or not Atreya intended to write a farce.  Still, she tells a whomping good story, and like the savvy Pullama,  Atreya knows how to reassemble her own broken pieces to create a vivid tale that won't let you go.
Possibly the world's coolest tree
Courtesy of www.iloveindia.com
For the reader unacquainted with rural life in India, the book is eye-opening, rich in detail about a way of life that's prevailed for thousands of years.  Clearly, democratization, the women's movement, and pride in one's natural skin tone haven't yet made their way under the shadow of the banyan tree in Pullama's village.  Yet in the book's upbeat ending, Atreya assures us that women of spirit and intelligence can triumph over injustice, even if their "fairness creams" are ineffective.
Rasana Atreya's website and blog

Friday, March 9, 2012