Preeta Samarasan’s brilliantly executed first novel, Evening Is the Whole Day (Mariner, 2009), takes place in Malaysia. Samarasan focuses her writerly lens on the lives of the Rajasekharans: politically inclined Raju, the paterfamilias, whose grandfather came to Malaysia from India in 1899 and initiated the family’s inexorable rise to the upper classes; his wife, Visanthi, who cannot abide remembering her lower class upbringing; his elder daughter, Uma, who is excitedly looking forward to leaving Ipoh, Malaysia, for college at Columbia University; his son, Suresh; and six-year-old Aasha, who is desperately sad at the recent death of her grandmother and her beloved older sister’s imminent departure. As Uma’s departure approaches, different chapters explore both the family’s past—in vivid, fascinating, and often troubling detail—and the equally vivid, fascinating, and frequently troubling events that shaped Malaysian independence. Like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (which this novel made me want to reread), this is a book that begs to be read aloud. Here’s one sentence that gives a good sense of Samarasan’s style: “A wry sun was setting with a vengeance on the British Empire.” Don’t you love the adjective “wry”? It’s such an interesting way of describing the end of Britain’s colonial reign.
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