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Evening Is the Whole Day

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  968 ratings  ·  252 reviews
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-y
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published May 15th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2008)
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The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Best South Asian Fiction
107th out of 406 books — 1,245 voters
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenPhenomena by Susan TarrThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyMidnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
The Queen's Library: Best of the Commonwealth
131st out of 362 books — 113 voters

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Community Reviews

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I'm going to go ahead and call this my favorite novel of the decade. I've never, ever, EVER, believed in characters as deeply as I believe in the inhabitants of The Big House. You know what - forget the decade! This is as good a novel as I know of, and as intimate and moving a reading experience as I've had, and as rich and vivid a world as I’ve ever read my way into. I don't know if I've ever loved a character as much as I love Aasha. Love though, is not all I feel for this book – and this, I t ...more
Just when some thought it was impossible to please me...along comes this book. This deserves 5 stars without any doubt. It baffles me why the world hypes barely mediocre books like 'The Kite Runner' or 'Lovely Bones' when gems like this one go almost unnoticed. There is not a single thing that is wrong with this book. In fact, it is a textbook example of how one should write a novel. Reviving the true art of storytelling, it manages to be gripping, enthralling, and captivating. The novel reveal ...more
May 17, 2008 britta rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Every single person.
Holy cow. I have NEVER, EVER had a reading experience like this one. Rich and sad and confusing and rewarding. I need a thousand more stars to even get close to how I feel about this book. From the first sentence (oh, that gorgeous sentence!) I knew it was going to be one of those books that would change my life. And it did. I was hurt and in love and sad for and just bowled over by the characters in this book, wanted to curl up with Aasha behind the PVC settee and and watch and wonder and talk ...more
After reading rave reviews of this novel, I was just sure it was going to be fantastic.

I didn't even make it past the second chapter.

The language is beautiful, but it's written in a style that makes it difficult to understand at times. A lot of Malaysian dialect is used, which means the dialogue can be choppy when the characters are speaking. The style itself reminds me a lot of Faulkner with that same stream of consciousness flow. As I've never been a fan of Faulkner, it's not surprising that t
Sep 13, 2011 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Alan by: Kinga
Shelves: novels, read-in-2011
good but slow, more later..
OK,catching up. Trying to.. this book is a wonderfully calibrated family saga, encompassing such delights as Uncle Ballroom (he’s good at dancing), ghosts, gossips, postcolonial Malysia, servants badly treated, adultery, snobbery, race riots, and food - Chinese, Malaysian, Indian (I really wanted to tatse those curry puffs), and has a focus on bodily functions, shit, piss, snot drip from its pages.It's quite useful Appa (the house's patriarch) has no sense of smell or
The pain, the pain, the pain in this book. Some of it is brought about due to cultural traditions. A great deal occurs because of personality traits that won't allow the characters to move beyond forgiveness. although one must admit that most of the issues are those that would hamper anyone from easily forgiving. Thus, it appears to be pain that will go on forever.
With all of that said, I think that the biggest culprit it the silence among the family members. Samarasan, does an excellent job of
I thought this book was fabulous.

The story begins at the end and basically works backward with a little back-and-forth within that structure, a device which would have been irritating and ineffective in the hands of a less gifted author but worked beautifully here. As a result of the structure, events which seem minor at first gradually take on a breathtaking symbolism and significance as you begin to discover their roots, and the story becomes deeper and deeper as you keep reading. The language
This writer is going to be a big, huge deal. She seems to have invented a new kind of prose, mooshing together magical realism (barf, but in her hands non-vomitous) and Tolstoy. I wanted to steal my galley and write notes all over its margins.
great book. really well written. the characters have dimensions! I didn't feel forced to identify or sympathize with anyone in particular. this is really one of the best books I've ever read.
This book grew on me. At first I found the amount of detail overwhelming, and thought the pace was too slow. Gradually, though, I got used to the style. By the end, I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read in quite a long time.

It’s an interesting book in that it illuminates the politics of post-colonial Malaysia and the tensions of race and class, and yet the action takes place almost entirely inside a single house. It’s called the Big House, and the family living in it is wealthy but ab
This book is a difficult three stars, because I feel very rewarded by the book but even more disappointed by the larger story.

What I love about this book: the writing. The descriptions, the language, the way the author uses smell and sound, and some of her naked moments, telling us the audience directly that the story does not coming to a black telescopic end, like so many cartoons. Instead that telescope expands to a whole scene, a whole reality. I believed her, and I followed her. The vignette
Manu Prasad
Preeta Samarasan's debut novel begins with the kind of prose that actually seems like poetry in disguise - with a description of a part of Malaysian geography. The narrative begins in 1980, on Kingfisher Lane in Ipoh, in the Big House, owned by the Rajasekharans - Raju (Appa) a leading lawyer and a pillar of the community, erstwhile socialist, Vasanthi, his wife, from circumstances far below his, their children Uma, Suresh and Aasha in that order, Paati, the matriarch whose disapproval of her da ...more
I chose this novel as my “Malaysia” book in the 52 Books Around the World Challenge. The author, Preeta Samarasan, was born and raised in Malaysia, but came to America in her teens and never looked back.

The story is about a dysfunctional Indian family and through their faulty relationships, we learn about the various cultures of Malaysia, the disparity of wealth, and the country’s own caste system. I appreciated learning a little about this country, but I honestly did not enjoy the book. In the
Liam Wright
Occasionally you come across a novel that so accurately captures the human condition that it is impossible not to identify with some tiny fragment of personality or emotion.
This novel wove together both the story of a servant girl wrongfully accused and that of her employers lives, trials and tribulations, both internally and on the surface.
few books that I have read have portrayed such a raw and deeply flawed cast of individuals, I found it difficult to openly dislike any of them because each
Comparisons to Rushdie are embarrassing, but Preeta Samarasan has a great deal of Rushdie in the twisty chiaroscuro style of her prose. Like Rushdie, she seems contemptuous of her characters, or anyway she seems incapable of knowing them and loving them at the same time. I'm not certain how she feels about Malaysia, but the desire to escape (rather than reform) makes the satire difficult to handle - I mean, really, do we need to Rushdies at once? What is the good in having simultaneous Nabokovs ...more
This book is actually set in Malaysia, but the main characters are an Indian family. The story involves the death of an elderly woman in the family, and the subsequent dismissal of a servant girl who is held responsible. Through the eyes of the six year old protagonist, Aasha, and occasionally other characters, the book swoops backward and forward through time to show the subtle and complicated threads that tie together families in love, loyalty, hatred and deceit. While the book particularly il ...more
I tried. I really really tried. But the ILL due date came up, and I was still only half way through. It wasn't that I didn't want to know what had happened to each of the characters, it was just that...I didn't actually want to have to read the book to find out.

I'm interested that so many people connected so deeply with the characters, because I found each one of them to be completely unappealing or just plain unlikeable.

If I'd had more time with this book, rather than being on a rather strict
May 09, 2008 Charlotte rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Oh, I just loved it so so much. All through the last 50 pages I kept thinking, how is this possibly going to end? And then of course it ended in the most perfect, heartbreaking way. If there is such a thing as a romp without the romping, this is it. Also, it is one of the only novels I've ever read to make me feel very very hungry one minutes and then very very not hungry the next. Most only do one or the other. The word bittersweet isn't bitter enough or sweet enough. And ghosts! Is it any surp ...more
Evanston Public  Library
I don’t know if Tolstoy ever considered visiting Malaysia (or even if he was aware of its existence), but he would have been interested to find that his belief about unhappy families holds true there, too. It’s hard to say who is the unhappiest member of the Balakrishnan family. Is it Chellam, the much abused and scorned house servant? Maybe it’s Paati, the unreasonable demanding, paranoid grandmother who detests her daughter-in-law and misses the attentions of her grandchildren. But, no, I thin ...more
feux d'artifice
This is a book that’s seriously hard to love. When I say this, I don’t mean that this is a horribly written book or anything. In fact, I think the writing is lovely, if sometimes a little overwrought. No, what makes this book hard to read is the fact that none of the characters are likeable. The very premise itself is about how people fail each other, and this process is very painful to watch. No one in this story comes off with their hands untainted. I think I could have came to terms with this ...more
This novel, which is told non-chronologically, assumes that the reader's interest will be captured because a grandmother has died by a means unstated, a servant has been sent away, and a young woman is leaving Malaysia for the US. I did not care. I knew nothing about these characters at the outset and still knew very little by page 100 or so, when I abandoned ship. In some other novels I have found that a non-chronological story line is an attempt to cover for weak plotting ability, but of cours ...more
I see I'm not the only person raving about this book. I just plucked it off the shelf in the Popular Library, & my luck there has not been all that great so I was a bit dubious . . . but within seconds of starting to read I could tell that this writer's hand is sure, & the longer I read the more amazed & enthralled I was.

I had never read a novel set in Malaysia, & this one provides an amazing window into that country in recent times, along with some 19th- & 20th-century histo
Being someone who grew up in a "Tamil diaspora" family, I was intrigued by this book. The novel is set in Malaysia, much of it in the late 70's and early 80's. Before reading this, I knew very little about Malaysia. The plot involves the stuff of family drama: migration and aspiration, forbidden loves, extramarital affairs, a mysterious murder, but it's written in such a dreamy (without being airy), complicated, and detail-sensitive way that it really works. The book also includes a child who re ...more
I really liked this book, although for some reason it took me FOREVER to read. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm fascinated by Indian culture, but the fact that this novel was about Indians in Malaysia was especially interesting. I have to admit that before I read this I didn't know anything about post-colonial Malaysia and its struggles, but I definitely want to learn more now. At any rate, it's hard to believe that this novel began as an MFA thesis. It's incredibly complex, dense, and assured ...more
I didn't finish this -- I didn't like it quite enough to keep going, and anyway it was due back at the library and I couldn't renew it. I think the problems I was having with it were due to the way the story hopped around between characters. First it would focus on one, then another, then someone else; it was also moving back and forth in different times in the characters lives. Normally this kind of thing doesn't bother me, but I don't feel that it was done well enough. To me, part of the trick ...more
Whirl Girl
I loved the writing style in this book. It was engaging, descriptive, and really transported me to another place and time. Peppered with Malaysian (and Tamil-Malaysian) slang and references, it offered a lyrical compliment to the more straight-forward nonfiction book that I read about Borneo this month. I also loved the character development. By the end of the book, the nuances and personalities of each of the main characters shone through, providing an explanation of their motivations. What I d ...more
I "really liked" this book. It is a sad, but I feel fairly accurate depiction of a dysfunctional family. While set in Malaysian, the story crosses cultures. Samarasan flips the order of events which could be annoying and seems to be the literary technique of the day. However, I think in this case it serves for us to see how a family arrived at the place they are now. One event built on another until no one cares for anyone and a pattern of abuse is established. A good lesson in fixing the hurt w ...more
This is literary fiction and it shows. The book is floating on themes and flowery descriptions without a whole lot happening. The story, insofar as you can call it that, is that Chellam, the servant of the main family in the book gets thrown out because she supposedly did something really bad. Then, through flashbacks it is told how she was hired and life in the family went until the bad thing (which it turns out she didn’t even do) happens. Mixed with that are flashbacks to the 1950s and '60s t ...more
John T. Hickey
I am fascinated by Preeta's narrator's ability to weave the current convoluted multi hyphenated realities of Malaysia's coming to be into the story of one Malay-Indian family's multigenerational household's interlocking stories of love, desire, longing, and aspirations. Actually, it would be more accurate to say a neighborhood's stories, because, in true Malay style, everyone is watching everyone else, and commenting, and in fact the neighborhood (like the family) encompasses many more elements ...more
Sobia Be
her writting is concentrated too much on the detail of the surrounding until they drift away from the real plot of the story! till the end you cant seem to find the main characters in this story!..her hatred towards certain religion & race is surprisingly spoken openly , & one wonders what it got to do with the story altogether....! the end Preeta is pretty lame....good in describing the details but bad in creating a story!!
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Evening is the Whole Day- read every word! 1 40 Aug 27, 2008 07:25PM  
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Please see for more about the book and a regularly updated schedule of events.


Preeta Samarasan has attended a lot of schools, and you should contact her to say hello if you knew her at any of them:

In Ipoh, Malaysia:
The Wesley Church (ACS) Nursery School;
The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Kindergarten;
SRK Tarcisian Convent;
SM Convent, Ipoh (the Convent of the Holy Infan
More about Preeta Samarasan...
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