Sunday, June 29, 2008

Separate Worlds

Young Vidya is a happy student, hoping for a chance to attend college (a feat for most women of 1940s India), with the support of her progressive family. All that changes when her father, a doctor, is severely brain damaged during a non-violent protest against British occupation. Fifteen year old Vidya and her family move into her uncle's traditional household where the men and women live on separate floors of the house. The only time Vidya has to speak with her brother are small exchanges while she serves the men their meals and at festivals. Vidya's one escape from the oppressive atmosphere is the library, tucked away on the men's floor.

Will Vidya be able to attend college or will she be married? Should Indians join British troops in the fight against Nazi Germany or continue their own fight for independence? Will her father regain his health or remain a shell of his former self?

With beautiful descriptions of historical Indian life, insight into traditions, and the spunk of a heroine who seeks her own future, Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman is a fascinating and enjoyable read.

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