Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan

Published by Random House Canada

Rating: 4 stars

The book begins in the year 1896, with ten-year old Sivakami, who is arranged to be married to the local village healer named Hanumarathnam. Despite astrological predictions that he will pass away in his tenth year of marriage, Sivakami marries him and soon enough finds herself with two children. After Hanumarathnam realizes that his death is imminent as was originally predicted, he hires a servant to watch over Sivakami and help run the household and business. As Sivakami's children get older and start families of their own, the book chronicles all of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren's journeys into the modern era confronting issues of religion, tradition, family, loss and love.

The Toss of a Lemon provides an excellent historical background and overview of many cultural customs and the way they influence daily life in India. It is clear that the author did a tremendous amount of research and I was not surprised to discover that many of the characters are based on her own ancestry.

This book is a very detailed account of many generations and is quite lengthy. As such, there are times when some patience is required in order to read further. It is an excellent character study for all of those depicted but keep in mind it is not plot-driven at all. This is not a book that is filled with plot twists and suspense, but rather one that delicately weaves together the lives of many generations. What this book offers that many others don't is a chance to really get to know characters and their whole family history and future, instead of just a slice of their lives. In that sense, I really appreciated the narrative and its details, even though some of it felt a little tedious. During those times, it was the beautiful writing that kept me reading and kept me intrigued.

Padma Viswanathan's strength definitely lies in her ability to breathe life into each character and give the impression that these are real people. That talent is what helped me become invested in the lives of even the most unlikable characters throughout the book.

For anyone who enjoys reading about family sagas and following characters throughout many generations then this is the perfect book. What it lacks in emotional buildup and complex plot structure, it makes up for in character development and intriguing description.

BIG THANKS to Jessica and Random House Canada for my review copy


bermudaonion said...

Not only do I love family sagas, I love books set in other cultures. This book sounds fantastic!

Cathy said...


Nice review. I have had this book sitting on my bookshelf since it hit the shelves last year. It still sounds interesting and I'm glad you liked it.


Katherine said...

I read this last fall and enjoyed it--though the first-person narrative kind of got to me after a while. Good story, though. Good review!

Becca said...

I love books set in other cultures. I have to add this one to the list. Thanks for the review!

Cathy said...

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I thought it appropriate to put the Lemonade Award comment on The Toss of a Lemon review.