August, 1941 in Bombay, India. Vidya is a teenage girl in a Brahman family. Her father is a doctor, volunteering as an Indian freedom fighter, her brother is in college, and her mother really just wants to see Vidya married happily. One day, after they have dropped off Vidya’s uncle at the train station, the family’s life changes drastically.
On their drive home from the train station, Vidya and her father encounter a protest. Vidya wants nothing more than to be able to join them, and so rushes into the crowd. Soon, the British police arrive on the scene and start beating the protesters; in order to protect one woman whom the police are brutally beating, Vidya’s father shields this woman, and ends up getting his head crushed. Though not dead, he has massive brain damage and is more of a shell than the person Vidya and her family loved.
As her father can no longer take care of them, Vidya’s family must move to Madras to join her grandfather’s traditional home. Living in the house are a number of Vidya’s aunts and uncles, and the brother-in-law (Raman) of one of Vidya’s aunts. Vidya has a very tough time adjusting – doesn’t make friends at school, is bullied by two of her aunts, and has to deal with the guilt of believing she’s caused her father’s infirmity. The only place where she finds refuge is the forbidden library in her grandfather’s home, and she soon develops a strong friendship with Raman during their time spent in the library.
I have to say that I enjoyed reading this book. It took me less than the span of a weekend to get through the whole thing. The characters were believable, and there was enough depth that I could like certain ones and dislike others completely. It also had some paralleling with Cinderella, though I wouldn’t consider this a retelling of the story at all – just some similar elements like the evil family members who are only sort of related to the main character, that make her do more than her share of housework.
The last chapter… I really wish it wasn’t included in the book. It acted more as an epilogue than anything else, and I have a habit of NOT liking epilogues. I mean, did you read the one in Deathly Hallows? Wasn’t it ghastly? Anyway, the one in this book was written as a letter from Vidya to Raman, but it didn’t carry Vidya’s voice in it; it didn’t mesh with the rest of the book. And I had a minor quibble with the last couple of sentences in the book, as they had the feeling of “Yayz America! Best Country Evar!” in a way that wasn’t like Vidya’s voice previously and quite frankly made me roll my eyes. I realize the book is written by an American author for an American audience, but it felt a little bit too over-the-top for me to find it believable.
Other than that, I thought the book was quite good and enjoyable. It was emotional – made me tear up at least once (but what would you expect from a book that takes place during WWII?) – and transported me fully to WWII-era India. Gave the full picture of what it would’ve been like to actually be there, and it was beautiful.