THE RICE MOTHER

Rani Manicka, Author . Viking $24.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-670-03192-4

Manicka's luminous first novel is a multigenerational story about a Sri Lankan family in Malaysia. In the 1920s, Lakshmi is a bright-eyed, carefree child in Ceylon. But at 14, her mother marries her to Ayah, a 37-year-old rich widower living in Malaysia. When she arrives at her new home, she promptly discovers that Ayah is not rich at all, but a clerk who had borrowed a gold watch and a servant to trick Lakshmi's mother. Ayah is for the most part a decent man, however, and Lakshmi rallies and takes control of a sprawling household that soon includes six children of her own. There is a period of contented family life before WWII and the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, during which Lakshmi's eldest and most beautiful daughter, Mohini, is abducted and killed by Japanese soldiers. The family unravels as Ayah withdraws and Lakshmi falls prey to fits of rage. Mohini's twin brother, Lakshmnan, becomes a compulsive gambler, leaving his own wife and three children impoverished. The story is told through the shifting perspectives of different family members, including son Sevenese, who can see the dead; youngest daughter, Lalita, neither pretty nor gifted; Rani, Lakshmnan's fierce and beleaguered wife; and Lakshmnan's daughter, Dimple. Their voices are convincingly distinct, and the prismatic sketches form a cohesive and vibrant saga. Manicka can be a bit syrupy on the subjects of childhood and maternal love, but she also has a fine feeling for domestic strife and the ways in which grief permeates a household. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/09/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 448 pages - 978-1-101-11278-6
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