Chris's Reviews > Climbing the Stairs

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
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's review
Apr 10, 2013

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bookshelves: ethnic, historical-fiction

Summary and review from Booklist:
From Booklist
*Starred Review* Growing up in a progressive family in Bombay during World War II, 15-year-old Vidya hopes that college is in her future, though her classmates are preparing for arranged marriages. After her father is severely injured in a riot, her life suddenly, irrevocably changes. Vidya, her older brother, and their parents move to Madras to join her grandfather’s traditional household, where men and women live separately and Vidya’s powerful aunt disdains the newcomers. When Vidya finds time after chores and schoolwork, she escapes upstairs to her grandfather’s library, where she meets a young man who seems to understand her. In her first novel, Venkatraman paints an intricate and convincing backdrop of a conservative Brahmin home in a time of change. Vidya’s first-person narrative conveys her pain, guilt, and hopes, as well as the strong sense of self that enables her to act with courage and occasionally with nobility in difficult circumstances. In an author’s note, Venkatraman comments on several elements of the novel, including Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution, Indian volunteers in the British army during World War II, and her family history. The striking cover art, which suggests Vidya’s isolation, as well as the unusual setting, will draw readers to this vividly told story. Grades 6-9. --Carolyn Phelan --

My Comments:
This books explores an interesting time period in history (World War II) in an often overlooked country (India) The heroine is a 15 year old girl, Vidya, who's somewhat liberal life in India suddenly changes when her father is injured in a Gandhi freedom march protest and she must go and live with her grandfather. Her status drastically changes because her grandfather's household follows more traditional Indian customs where women are separated from men and are not allowed many personal freedoms, including freedom to read! Her grandfather has a library in the house which Vidya secretly uses and later gets permission to use. It is there that she meet a future love interest, Raman, who is going to America to study. An interesting side story is Vidya's brother, Kitta, who is focused on the Nazi's and what's happening in the world and eventually joins the British Indian Army. The irony here is that Indians are struggling against Great Britain over independence, yet Kitta chooses to help Great Britain in her struggle against the Nazi's. Vidya also has a Jewish friend at school. Also of interest is the rigid caste system that exists in India that is enforced in her grandfather's house where lower cast servants are considered "unclean" and are not allowed to touch food that the family will eat. Women are also of lower status. When Vidya has her period, she mus leave and stay in the "outhouse" until she is clean again. In the end, her grandfather says she may go to college where she hopes to become a doctor so that she may help her father and others. Raman proposes and wants to marry her in 2 months time so that she may travel to America with him. Vidya declines - this is too soon for her, but she will write to him in America.
This would be a book for teen or preteen girls

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