Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Toss of a Lemon

Today, I finished two novels. This afternoon, I finished was my friend Padma Viswanathan's The Toss of a Lemon, and this evening I finished Christoph Ransmayr's Der fliegende Berg. I had started the Ransmayr first, back in December, because it is one of four books I'm teaching in my verse novels course next semester, but I put it aside over Christmas and New Year's because I had been planning to read Padma's novel "between the years" since she sent it to me in September.

There is a great deal of say about the excellent Toss of a Lemon, but let me begin with one small, very personal response:

Rukmini ... is tall, with broad shoulders, and an exceptionally good cook, which her in-laws appreciate, though they're more likely to tell others this than tell her.

That was the first thing I marked in the book, right near the beginning, a description of one of the novel's minor characters (the neighbor of the main character, Sivakami). The phrase that struck me was the last bit I quoted; it reminded me of my father's tendency to never praise his children directly, but only indirectly, by praising them to others. My mother (my father's second wife) is not like that; she praises openly—but apparently, my dad's first wife is just like him, and over the years I heard at least one story about her praising her children and concluding by explicitly asking that the praise not be passed on to the children in question.

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