Goodreads blurb: This intricately woven narrative is one of the landmark novels of Indian modernism.
This ambitious novel, teeming with characters, focuses on the family of Srinivasa Aiyar or SRS, who moves from his ancestral house in Alapuzhai in Kerala, to the more modern Kottayam, before returning to his wife Lakshmi’s home in Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. Set in the late 1930s and reflecting the political and social turmoil of the pre-war years, it chronicles the psychological conflict between SRS and his nine-year-old son, Balu; the moral struggle of a young widow, Anandam, as she considers remarriage; and the political journey of Sridaran, who chooses to break off his studies in England in order to join nationalist activities at home.
I am not a big fan of poetry per se. Not that I have anything against verse, it’s just that I don’t quite get it, that’s all. But when I finished reading Children, Women, Men by Sundara Ramaswamy I somehow ended up feeling that I had just finished reading a poem. Yes, the story of Srinivasa Aiyar (SRS) and his family set in rural Tamil Nadu/Kerala of the 1930s is nothing short of lyrical or poetic in the way it has been woven and narrated.
Very few authors have the innate ability to bring to life in front of readers’ eyes places, events, characters and their stories from a different time period. And that too when the time period involved is completely different from what readers are accustomed to, the author has to walk a fine tightrope between devoting too much time and words to the settings and the characters and the narrative itself. And this precisely is where Su Raa (as the author is called in Tamil Nadu) excels. The narrative, its setting, the characters and the overall feel of the book is so universal in its nature that not for one moment did I feel out of place at all.
Another area where the book scores really high would be on the ‘universality’ of its theme. In fact, as the famous saying goes the more things change, the more they remain the same and this statement rings so true to me after having read this book. Themes such as the rigidity of a patriarchal society, the lack of empowerment of women and widows, youngsters and teenagers coming of age and trying to break firmly held beliefs and status quo in society, parents struggling to bring up their children appropriately, children being scared of their strict disciplinarian parents, are adroitly dealt with in this book. And true to its name, the narrative follows the sequence of children, women and men in its points of view.
While the book itself reads like a television serial in terms of the fact that there is no single overarching narrative arc to it, and is more like a collection of episodes from the lives of the various characters, it works really well in this book primarily due to the fact that each of the characters have been dealt with in a relatively detailed manner, with none of them being short-changed. Equal importance has been given even to minor characters and their traits and motivations and actions which keep the narrative moving are clear and unambiguous throughout the book.
A must read for anybody who enjoys a grand narrative which is very strongly grounded in the reality of the day and deals with human emotions in an extremely mellow and sensitive manner.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was offered to me by the publisher in return for a honest and unbiased review.