Vintage, 2013 (2013)
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
is a fictional study of a family in India as seen through the eyes and experiences of fifteen-year-old Sonil. A student in a pre-university school in Madras, Sonil has come to the fictional island of Pi to spend her summer holiday at her grandmother's home. Her mother also lives in the house, but she has been absent from Sonil's life and rarely speaks to her or pays her any attention. From her earliest years, Sonil has lived with her aunts and cousins, with frequent visits to her beloved grandmother. She alternates between anger toward her mother and feelings of abandonment. Her father was an American who was never married to her mother and left to return to his family in the United States before she was born. Her grandmother's brother, an artist and opium addict, also lives in the house.
onil is a careful observer of other people, but she isn't close with other girls her age, except for her cousin Jani, who is a few years older and also stays with their grandmother for part of the summer. One day while Sonil is shopping for food, she encounters Richard, an attractive American who is twice her age, and they begin a friendship which will turn into a deeper attachment that profoundly affects her. Her relationship with her mother also changes dramatically during this eventful summer. And as the story unfolds, Sonil begins to question every assumption that she has had about her life.
he book is written lyrically with beautiful descriptions of the physical environment of Pi as well as of the characters themselves. During an attempt by their grandmother to arrange a marriage for Jani, '
Grandmother made sure we dressed up and had fresh flowers in our hair. I adjusted Jani's jasmine and had her try on three saris until she chose the cream with flecks of gold and a border of large abstract mangoes and peacocks. It was an enchanting sari. Her bodice was long in the sleeve and cut attractively about the neck and back. She looked like a princess with her large bindhi - the mark on her forehead - and her regal stance.
onil tells us early in the story about the freedom that she enjoyed when she visited her grandmother. She says, '
I'd rise late, read storybooks, eat lightly. I spied on my mother…and made up stories to amuse myself. Often I took a chair to the field behind the house. I sat and watched the green grass, the dandelion fuzz at the edge of the field, the rough, high grass. Dragonflies speckled gold and green whizzed by, and fat bees sucked greedily from the nectar-laden flowers.
' Her freedom allows her to make decisions that change her from an innocent young girl into a young adult who can determine her own future, rather than falling into a life that would have been unsatisfactory in so many ways. Sonil's story, intertwined with those of her family, makes for an enchanting and sublime read.
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