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As Sweet As Honey    by Indira Ganesan order for
As Sweet As Honey
by Indira Ganesan
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

In As Sweet As Honey, Indira Ganesan once again writes about people who live on the fictional island of Pi, a small country located south of India. The story is told by Mina, who is staying with Grandmother while her parents are working on their PhDs in America. Mina tells us about the various cousins and why they are all together at Grandmother's house. Sanjay's mother died in childbirth, his father lives nearby, and he is nine. Rasi is eleven, has a father who travels a lot on business, and her mother lives nearby in Madhupur.

Aunt Metterling, not really their aunt, but their much older cousin, is over six feet tall and is an orphan who has lived with Grandmother since she was a child. Because she is twenty-eight and so much taller than most other islanders, she had been considered an old maid, but at the beginning of the novel she is marrying a very short British man named Archer whom she has known for only a few months. Their cousin Nalani, who is a few years older than the three children but quite a bit younger than Metterling, lives with Grandmother because she was orphaned many years ago.

The story begins with the wedding, a joyous occasion which suddenly turns tragic. After Metterling and Archer, who are deeply in love, are married and begin to dance together, he suddenly falls down and dies, leaving Metterling sobbing and the whole wedding party struggling to comfort her and take care of the children and the situation. When later Metterling admits to Grandmother that she is pregnant, there are problems for the whole family, since premarital sex was strongly forbidden in Pi at that time. Grandmother worries that she will have trouble arranging a marriage for Nalani, partly because the family's reputation has been affected by Metterling's pregnancy.

Meanwhile, Archer's cousin Simon in England keeps trying to contact Metterling about property that she inherited upon Archer's death. When she tells him that she cannot come to England to see the property because she's pregnant, Simon comes to Pi. During the months of her pregnancy, while commiserating with each other about Archer's death, they fall in love. After Archer's baby is born, they marry and return to England. The story then concentrates on Metterling's life in England.

After several years pass, the story picks up once again in Pi. Nina had continued to tell Metterling's story based on what she heard from her over the years, and she finally sees her again in Pi when they are both able to visit at the same time.

This book is beautifully written and deals with many aspects of Indian culture, both now and in the recent past. Even though the fictional Pi is not part of India, the customs, religion, and language are the same. Nina tells about Nalani's arranged marriage, giving details of how this was done and why it continues to make sense to the people who agree to it. Nina, though, swears that she will never get married at all, thus taking herself out of the arranged marriage equation. However she's still a young woman by the end of the book and seems to have mixed feelings about it.

In fact, the whole novel deals with marriage, love, and later the customs of the island country compared to customs in England and America. I enjoyed this book a lot, and my only criticism would be that I would have loved to have a glossary at the end describing the various foods that were named. Sometimes the author told us what they were, but more often she just named them, leaving her readers to try to find meanings on their own. This is a small criticism, though, and didn't take away from my enjoyment of the novel.

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