Monday, August 11, 2008

Pg. 69: Preeta Samarasan's "Evening Is the Whole Day"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Evening Is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan.

About the book, from the publisher:
Set in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces us to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.

When Chellam, the family's rubber-plantation-bred servant girl, is dismissed for unnamed crimes, her banishment is the latest in a series of recent, precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha's life. A few short weeks before, Aasha's grandmother Paati passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister, Uma, departed for Columbia University--leaving Aasha alone to cope with her mostly absent father, her bitter mother, and her imperturbable older brother.

Beginning with Aasha's grandfather's ascension from Indian coolie to illustrious resident of the Big House on Kingfisher Lane, and going on to tell the story of how Appa, the family's Oxford-educated patriarch, courted Amma, the humble girl next door, Evening Is the Whole Day moves gracefully backward and forward in time to answer the many questions that haunt the family: What was Chellam's unforgivable crime? Why was Uma so intent on leaving? How and why did Paati die? What did Aasha see? And, underscoring all of these mysteries: What ultimately became of Appa's once-grand dreams for his family and his country? Sweeping in scope, sumptuously lyrical, and masterfully constructed, Evening Is the Whole Day offers an unflinching look at relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, the wealthy and the poor, a country and its citizens--and the ways in which each sometimes fails the other. Illuminating in heartbreaking detail one Indian immigrant family's secrets and lies while exposing the complex underbelly of Malaysia itself, Preeta Samarasan's debut is a mesmerizing and vital achievement sure to earn her a place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Zadie Smith.
Among the praise for Evening Is the Whole Day:
"[A] delicious first novel...Samarasan's fabric is gorgeous. Her ambitious spiraling plot, her richly embroidered prose, her sense of place, and her psychological acuity are stunning. Readers, responding to the setting, will immediately compare her to Kiran Desai. I think Smarasan's dialogue and description are reminiscent of Eudora Welty, another woman who knew how to write about family and race and class and secrets and heat."
New York Times Book Review

“... a surpassingly wise and beautiful debut novel about the tragic consequences of the inability to love.”
Booklist, starred review

"[A] beautifully written debut novel [...]. Because the description of Malaysia and its diverse population is so achingly lyrical, readers will want to slow down to absorb each word; at other times, as when they get caught up in the family drama, they will want to quicken their pace. This book is destined to be highly sought after by fans of Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy."
Library Journal, starred review

"A wonderfully engaging novel, poignant yet comical, about the contradictions and hazards inherent in a modern, postcolonial world."
—M.G. Vassanji, author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, two-time winner of Canada's Giller Prize

"A magical, exuberant tragic-comic vision of postcolonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy. In prose of acrobatic grace, Samarasan conjures a vibrant portrait, by turns intimate and sweeping, of characters and a country coming of age. The d├ębut of a significant, and thrilling, new talent."
—Peter Ho Davies, Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Welsh Girl
Read an excerpt from Evening Is the Whole Day, and learn more about the author and her work at Preeta Samarasan's website.

Preeta Samarasan was born and raised in Malaysia, and moved to the United States in high school. After spending several years ostensibly working on a dissertation on gypsy music in France, but all the while writing fiction, she decided to switch tracks. She recently received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan.

The Page 69 Test: Evening Is the Whole Day.

--Marshal Zeringue