In the Forest at Midnight

Rita Pratt Smith, Author Dutton Books $18.95 (310p) ISBN 978-1-55611-131-0
This impressive first novel chronicling a woman's coming-of-age combines delicately tangible detail--the hues, tones and flavors of India--with a well-crafted knot of relationships from which narrator Megan Manning grasps the threads of her own future. Megan's childhood in Madras, toward the end of British rule, is stamped by her family's tragic reaction to a forbidden marriage between Megan's Aunt Letty and an Indian medical student. A decade later, a crisis prompts Megan's rigid mother to send the shy 17-year-old to Letty's home in the north of India for an extended stay. In Nerbudapur, Megan finds herself surrounded by a confusing array of older women who usher in her womanhood: The once courageous and now alcoholic Letty, a physician who abandoned medicine until circumstance restores her confidence; Nila, a beautiful exhibitionist and mistress of Megan's uncle, who instructs Megan in the art of the sari and demonstrates a woman's power over men. When Megan is inevitably drawn to an Indian student activist in the heated political climate after Gandhi's assassination, she reactivates her family's darkest myths with consequent hard choices that result in a practical kind of redemption. Smith's clear, direct prose style makes this a satisfying read. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/30/1989
Release date: 05/01/1989
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