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The Toss of a Lemon

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  1,839 ratings  ·  393 reviews
In south India in 1896, ten-year old Sivakami is about to embark on a new life. Hanumarathnam, a village healer with some renown as an astrologer, has approached her parents with a marriage proposal. In keeping with custom, he provides his prospective in-laws with his horoscope. The problem is that his includes a prediction, albeit a weak one, that he will die in his tenth...more
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Random House Canada
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May 13, 2013 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes to read about culture or India
Recommended to Judy by: Amanda
Its not often that I'm sad to finish a 616-page book, but that is the case with this one. The Toss of a Lemon tells the story of a Brahmin family through three generations. It not only offers a ring-side seat to watch Sivakami and her family mature and change, but it portrays the evolution of India from a caste-heavy society to one that begins to shrug off the old traditions. (1896-1958) Here are a few slices from this gem of a book:

*The book title: Hanumarathnam, Sivaki's husband, is a wealthy...more
Well, Padma Viswanathan has written an ambitious novel of 600 pages. When I got to page 294 I decided I had given her a fair chance and put the book down. I found the plot boring, I didn't care about the characters, I couldn't feel the evening breeze, nor smell the cooking aromas. So what was the purpose of reading on? It is another tale of the oppression of the caste society in India and the attempt of modernity to erase its wrongs, leaving large scars in its wake.
Ben Babcock
This is not a book for everyone, in the sense that you must be receptive in order to read it, or else you'll want to put it down after the first 100 pages (if that). It's a slow story, rich in details and dwelling on significant moments in the lives of its many characters. There's very little action and a lot of deliberation. It takes dedication and patience to see it through until the end. If you have that, however, then hopefully you enjoyed The Toss of a Lemon as much as I did.

Padma Viswanath...more
Aug 09, 2008 Charlotte rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This novel will inspire all kinds of insipid comparisons to other Indian-diaspora writers, and I don't really understand why they chose to use the terrible Yann Martel blurb about "getting through" it, and they shouldn't call anything a "saga" anymore, people haven't the patience for it.

BUT ANYWAY: I loved this book. I am tempted to read it again from the beginning, all 600+ pages of it. I wished it had kept going. I wished it would never stop.

It follows Sivakami and her extended Brahmin famil...more
I took my time reading this novel. Normally I consume books rapidly, hoping to jump to the next one on my list. Toss of Lemon made me slow down, not because of difficult prose or boredom, but because I wanted to savor the story.

The novel traces history through the lens of a family which is based loosely on the author's own family history. It made me want to learn more about India and Indian history, something that I have not been exposed to beyond Ghandi. I highly recommend this book as a long...more
Paula Margulies
I've read a number of books by Indian-American authors during my Centrum residency in Port Townsend (the buyer at the local library appears to have a fascination with all things Indian, since so many of this genre grace the shelves), but this is my favorite of all. Not the jazziest title (which has to do with the main character's astrologer husband, who asks the midwives delivering his children to toss a lemon through the window, so he'll know the exact time of their births and can forecast thei...more
What an epic novel! At over 600 pages, this is not a book to be taken lightly,. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy it and it kept my interest quite well throughout. It spans 50+ years and follows the life of Sivakami and her progeny. She is both married and widowed at an early age. Left with 2 children, she spends the rest of her life raising them and then their children. Set in India around the beginning of the 20th century, it has a backdrop of Indian independence. Sivakami and her family are of...more
This book started off well but became an absolute drag to read. I ended up not finishing the book.

The author got far too muddled in the details of each character's life that it became hard to understand what was going on with whom. Though I always enjoy a family's journey, this became far too slow for me. Also, I think the author got too bogged down in the details of cultural and religious events as well as political developments. It gets very difficult for the reader to keep up with these deta...more
I had a hard time keeping track of all the people in this one- glad of the family tree provided but it wasn't enough and I had trouble keeping straight who was a girl & who a boy from names alone. Very dense novel with so much detail it overwhelmed but I learned a lot about Brahmin culture. I felt this could have been edited down a lot. Particularly enjoyed the latter parts about the early days of Bollywood. This was worth reading (but exhausting). Not a book I'd push on others unless they...more
Megan Sullivan
It's a quietly fascinating book. I'm at the point where I can't put it down, not because the plot is driving or it's suspenseful; it's one of those books that sneaks up on you and really pulls you in. It describes the daily life, religion, and culture of India from the late 19th century on, through the eyes of a Brahmin family and the trials they endure. The descriptions of the rituals surrounding daily life are fascinating, and the momentum of the story is quietly building now that I'm halfway...more
Nov 15, 2008 Tiffany rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Patient readers
While I do think The Toss of a Lemon has its lulls (what else would one expect from a 616-page novel?), I feel I gained a lot through reading it. I also understand its length; a tale of generations is no easy feat, and I don't think it could have been much shorter.

Viswanathan does a beautiful job of joining the small with the large, the global, historical sense of India's caste system and its slow, partial demise with the micro-story of this one family within that context, which is, in reality,...more
I LOVED this book! It is the perfect long story (600 pages) of a Brahmin family, with all the twists and turns of fate and character that keep me engulfed. Most long family stories are not my cup of tea. But Viswanathan has a way of telling a story and a story and another story, all leading to the next version of the story, and the story before that. This author loves her characters, delights in their foibles and teases them with terrible husbands or sisters or servants. She wryly teases her rea...more
The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan is a hefty epic novel about an Brahmin Indian family, spanning three generations---beginning in 1896. Although the book is fiction, the author's idea for the book was based on stories told to her by her grandmother over the years.

The novel follows Sivakami, from the time of her marriage in 1896 at the age of ten, to when she becomes a widow at age eighteen, left alone with two young children. The story continues as the reader watches the difficulties face...more
Diane Kistner
When I started reading this book, all 619 pages of it filled with names I had to clumsily sound out loud to myself before I could visualize the places and persons, I thought "This is going to be too big for me." I am coming to realize that a few decades of getting my information, like so many Americans do--in fast bursts, swiftly flowing plot lines, simple sentences and words, and facile caricatures--has served to atrophy my brain. (Me, who as a ten-year-old, greedily devoured the likes of "A Ta...more
Jennifer Arnold
The Toss of a Lemon is a sprawling, multi-generational family saga centered on Sivakami, a young widow raising her daughter (Thangam) and son (Vairum) and a whole host of grandchildren, with her faithful servant Muchami always at her side. Over the 600+ pages, the novel deals with the intricacies of arranged marriages, the caste system, independence from Britain and more, all seen through their impact on Sivakami and her family (in the last third, the persective shifts to Janaki, the brightest o...more
I read this book for several reasons, chiefly that it felt good in my hand. The cover was soft and smooth in a textured way and the pages felt as if they were made from something special. Additionally, this has been the summer of india-interest for me and this book presented itself.

It reminded me a lot of "London" by Edward Rutherford in the sense that they are both long epics and I enjoyed the first story line but not necessarily the ones following; though I kept reading because I was already s...more
This book is slow to start and quite long, so it might put some readers off. However, I think the reward is worth your patience in the first 150 pages or so.

It's hard to have sympathy with a ruling class that rules by virtue of accident of birth and nothing more. It's even harder to write a sympathetic portrait of one who sees such a world vanish before her eyes while at the same time acknowledging the huge injustices and ludicrous prejudices such a system engenders, but Viswanathan succeeds env...more
Doriana Bisegna
I never thought I would ever come across another novel as wonderful and rich as A Fine Balance…but I have and The Toss of a Lemon has completely surpassed my expectations.

How someone can write a debut novel of this length and breadth is beyond me. The writing, the story lines, the characters, the history and societal norms of India in the late 19th and early 20th century all come together flawlessly!

I am totally in awe of the raw talent that this young writer possesses and was totally thrilled...more
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A novel about a rural Brahmin family in South India, from 1900 to the mid-1950s. Though it's very clearly a novel about the family rather than any individual character, there is a focus on Sivikami, a new bride in the family who's widowed while still in her teens; her son, Vairum, an intelligent boy who feels estranged from their village and resents the loss of his father; and Janaki, Vairum's niece, a bright girl raised by her grandmother and who eventually marries into a family in Madras. Desp...more
Lauren Hamra
Every day I looked forward to settling in with this book before bed. It is long and detailed but does not disappoint and weaves itself into a story that engrosses ones imagination. The story chronicles 3 generations of a Tamil Brahmin family making its way in an increasingly modernizing society before India's independence. Besides the incredible story line, is the experience of learning about the traditions and customs of the Brahmin.
This book is not a book I would recommend to most of my friends, it is ambitious in its goal to address a serious topic in the manner she has, but overall is not an easy read. Honestly if I had not been required to read this book for class, I may have never picked it up on my own. I enjoyed the book on many levels, especially for its cultural aspects, and am looking forward to meeting the author.
John Vanderslice
This is a fascinating, multi-generational story about a traditional Brahmin family in India who is tested and changed by the significant social and political changes that transformed India in the 20th century. The novel starts in the late 19th century in fictional village of Cholapatti, specifically its Brahmin quarter, which amounts to "a single street of some fourteen houses, ending in a Krishna temple." So much happens in this small village--more than any of its residents suspect--and even as...more
Family sagas are complex and emotional: no matter where they are taking place they find ways to tie together the mothers and daughters and sons and fathers from around the globe. There is nothing quite so entangling as family, after all, and author Padma Viswanathan portrays the family life of Sivakami with depth and love.

The marriage of Hanumarathnam and Sivakami begins as any marriage in India might at the end of the 19th Century. They are married when Sivakami is ten years old and she moves i...more
This book has gotten so many excellent reviews. Why did I find it far too long? I skimmed through the last 100 pages just to get to the end. I think it is a good story, but it failed to capitvate me.
I loved this book. Loved it. We had a relationship. Like many love affairs it started off awesome, couldn't put it down -- and then it ended abruptly.

Ron and I read this book out loud to each other - he was better at pronouncing the names of everyone and everything than I was but it was still a great read-aloud book. He came over last night specifically so we could finish the last 30 pages - sweet. We both enjoyed reading this - learning about the times and dilemmas, trying to keep track of all the characters, thinking about progress and the caste system and everything else that was going on in India at the time... hard to believe it was like...more
I always finish a book i start so finished it but not a enjoyable book at all
This novel is a family saga set in southern India. Based on the author's family stories, and with a touch of magical realism (i.e., the daughter who sheds gold dust), the saga is peopled with four generations of a Brahmin family (late 1800s to 1950s). The family itself, and its setting and surroundings (the rain, the courtyards, the saris, the festivals, the food, the horoscopes, the politics of the time) come to life, but not so much the individual family members. The one exception is the matri...more
Jan 27, 2010 Ashley added it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I could not get into this book.
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Padma Viswanathan is a Canadian playwright and fiction writer.
Her short stories have appeared in literary journals and collections. She has also written plays for the stage and for radio.
Her first novel, The Toss of a Lemon, was shortlisted for's First Novel Award and for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book Award.

More about Padma Viswanathan...
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“She had always thought of her life as a series of submissions to God. What if she has been making her own decisions all along?” 0 likes
“Ganesh: Mortals refuse most divine offers….But so few of you accept our gifts, even ones you have prayed for.” 0 likes
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