The Inheritance

Indira Ganesan, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-679-43442-9
Set on a tiny island off India's southern tip, this lyrical novel is narrated by 15-year-old Sonil, whose coming-of-age is complicated by family secrets. Sonil's emotions are always at fever-pitch, dominated by anger and bitterness toward her mother, Lakshmi, who abandoned her in the care of two aunts after splitting from Sonil's father, an American photographer, when Sonil was six. On sick leave from school in Madras, Sonil visits her adored, levelheaded maternal grandmother on the island, where the family has assembled. Even as she reviles her aloof and perhaps promiscuous mother, Sonil longs for her love: ""She consumed me. I felt... that she took my soul, somehow."" Partly in rebellion against her, Sonil embarks on an affair with a footloose American, who soon drops her, adding heartache to the welter of her tangled emotions. Ganesan (The Journey) weaves her story in short fragments, evoking an exotic world of a tropical island rendered even more hermetic by family dynamics. Lakshmi is an infuriating character: her purposeful silence seems excessive when she finally reveals the secrets of her past, which are less dramatic than one anticipates. More robust, if exotic, are Raj, Sonil's great-uncle, a turbaned painter who takes opium, and her cousin Jani, who avoids an arranged marriage by entering a convent and then has a baby by a half-mad Christian preacher. In this atmosphere of ironic contrasts (Sonil's world contains both mutilated beggars and mystical healers), Ganesan fashions a witty portrait of a suffocating family set against a lush background that is a veritable naturalistic hymn to India. (Feb.) FYI: Ganesan, a Radcliffe fellow, was a Granta Best Young American Novelist Award finalist.
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-8070-6227-2
Paperback - 193 pages - 978-0-8041-6924-0
Open Ebook - 102 pages - 978-0-8041-5061-3
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