Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Climbing the Stairs

Rate this book
A remarkable debut novel set in India that shows one girl's struggle for independence.

During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather's large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.

Vidya's only refuge becomes her grandfather's upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya's brother decides to fight with the hated British against the Nazis, and when Raman proposes marriage too soon, Vidya must question all she has believed in.

Padma Venkatraman's debut novel poignantly shows a girl struggling to find her place in a mixedup world. Climbing the Stairs is a powerful story about love and loss set against a fascinating historical backdrop.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Padma Venkatraman

16 books494 followers
American author, Padma Venkatraman, has worked as chief scientist on oceanographic ships and spent time under the sea, directed a school, and lived in 5 countries. Her 5 novels, BORN BEHIND BARS, THE BRIDGE HOME, A TIME TO DANCE, ISLAND’S END and CLIMBING THE STAIRS, were released to multiple starred reviews (22 as of 8/30/21), and won numerous honors and awards (e.g. WNDB Walter Award 2020; SCBWI Golden Kite Award 2020; Paterson Prize; Julia Ward Howe Young Readers Award; South Asia Book Award; ALA, IRA Notable; Booklist, Kirkus, NYPL, Yalsa BBYA; CCBC choice; IBBY outstanding etc.). Her latest novel, BORN BEHIND BARS, a JLG selection, is available for order. She provides keynote addresses and commencement speeches, travels to international author festivals, serves on panels, does author visits and conducts workshops. Visit her at www.padmavenkatraman.com and follow her on twitter @padmatv or ig/fb venkatraman.padma

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
857 (26%)
4 stars
1,355 (41%)
3 stars
821 (25%)
2 stars
148 (4%)
1 star
47 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 598 reviews
Profile Image for Amitha.
Author 4 books15 followers
July 26, 2018
Before I start this review, I do have to say that I have met the author, and like her very much, but have tried to make this review fair and unbiased. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman is a YA historical fiction about a fifteen-year-old girl named Vidya that takes place in India during the struggle for Indian independence and WWII. Outspoken and willful Vidya is excited about her future, but when her father is injured in a freedom rally, Vidya’s hopes of entering college are shattered when her family is forced to move in with her grandfather and his straight-laced, traditional household. Her only way to escape is to climb the stairs to her grandfather’s library where she is forbidden to go.

Vidya is a delightful protagonist, but at first she seems a little naïve and immature for her age. For example, in a strange scene in the first chapter, she is unable to identify a stain on her father’s shirt as blood, despite the fact that she is fifteen years old and the daughter of a physician. However, after witnessing a British officer brutally beat her father, she becomes a much more believable character as she struggles with guilt about her role in her father’s injury and shame about her father’s resulting brain damage. I also thought that a few of the interactions Vidya has with her love interest, Raman, are sometimes very awkward and her uncle’s family comes across as a little too mean to be realistic.

Despite these shortcomings, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in in Indian history. The setting and time-period covered by this book are not often covered in American literature and especially not in such a truthful, open way. Sometimes I find that Indian-American authors tend to romanticize India and their novels read as odes to a perfect country where problems such as caste-based discrimination and sexism don’t seem to exist. However, through Vidya’s eyes, the author unflinchingly shows us her view of what it was like to live in a male-dominated society and where oppression was a fact of life. We see shocking events and difficult social problems portrayed honestly, and this important time in India’s history comes to life in a believable and interesting way.
Profile Image for Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day).
327 reviews94 followers
May 13, 2010
"Amma," I said tentatively. "I don't want to get married."
"What, Vidya kanna?" Amma said anxiously.
"I mean, I don't want to get married until I finish school," I said nervously.
Amma's expression cleared a little. "Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure we can wait a little longer. After all, girls are getting married much later these days. Even seventeen is not considered too old anymore."

For me, the essence of Climbing the Stairs was conveyed so expressively in the above conversation. Vidya is a fifteen-year old girl, approaching her marriageable age, not yet ready for it, but intensely desiring to go to college, instead. It was 1941 and India was still under the British rule. Vidya's father, Venkat, being a doctor would attend these marches to help those who were being beaten by the police. During one of those peaceful protest marches, a woman hosting the Indian flag gets beaten by an English policeman and has her sari and blouse ripped off, revealing her stark nudity. Venkat lifts the limp woman to help her, but in the process gets beaten viciously.

In a few minutes, Vidya's life is transformed. Just moments ago, her father promised her proudly that he would send her to college. Bliss was rapidly followed by shock and tragedy, as Vidya witnessed her father's assault. Venkat was reduced to a severely mentally ill person, with no control of his mental faculties.

He became what the others derogatorily called "idiot".

Padma Venkatraman has woven a masterful novel, with very vivid characters, realistic actions and believable situations. The first quarter of the book reveals Vidya's life in Bombay with her parents, her brother, Kitta and her dog, Raja. She has a typical teenager's life, although she occasionally worried about the World War 2 and the protests within her own country. The setting is truly Indian, with many common customs lacing their everyday lives. In India, there is usually one religious festival each month. Traditional homes duly gear up for the festivities every month, and once that month's celebrations were over, they start preparing for the next festival.

After Venkat is disabled, Vidya's family returns to Madras, to stay with their in-laws.
"My place is with my husband's family," amma said flatly. "A married woman must stay at her husband's home."

Vidya faces some of her biggest challenges at Madras, as she tries to battle the age-old beliefs that her family had managed to liberate itself from but were still prevalent back home. Her relatives do not fail to mask their disgust at Venkat's disability. Vidya does not like the school she attends, where she is almost vilified because her father is sick. We come across a mindset that evaluates a family according to the father's occupation. Occasionally, though, I found it unbelievable that someone would ridicule a child because her father is ill. There are rude people, but most of them know to keep their condemning remarks to themselves. Vidya's cousin, Malathi, who attends the same school, doesn't bother to support Vidya, but instead laughs with the others. Malathi is the epitome of a girl who wants to get married and brags about it saying she was "chosen" (by the groom). Soon as her marriage is fixed, she wants to stop going to school, and her parents are even proud of her for that.

The second half of Climbing the Stairs is a poignant description of life in a traditional Indian household. The women folk sleep downstairs while the men folk sleep upstairs. They usually get to meet only during mealtimes. There is only one other bedroom in the house, which the couples take turns to use. When food is served, the men have their fill first. The women eat second.*

When Vidya realizes that she has no avenue for learning in the house, because of the tons of chores that are cast her way, she asks her grandfather for permission to use the upstairs library, where no woman has set foot before. She breaks an unwritten rule in the process but she gets what she asks for. The simple journey to the library, reached by "climbing the stairs", sets in motion an incredible saga that transforms Vidya in so many ways.

It's been almost a week since I read this book, and I still can't stop raving enough about it. There is so much more that I want to say, but then I would have to write another post. What I appreciated the most about the book is that it is truly Indian. But I have to warn that there are plenty of references to Indian customs and festivals, without giving much information about them. So if you are not very familiar with the Indian culture, you can get a bit lost. If you don't mind looking up references once in a while, which is how we sometimes read books set in a country we are not familiar with, then I strongly suggest that you try this. Climbing the Stairs is geared towards the YA audience, but can be enjoyed by anyone, since the themes addressed are universal.
687 reviews8 followers
May 19, 2009
(Genre:Young Adult literature/historical fiction) This is an interesting novel about a 15 year old girl named Vidya living in World War ll India. She and her family are HIndu and belong to the Brahmin caste (scholars and others who sought for wisdom and learning rather than wealth and riches) which is one of the upper classes in the Indian caste system. When Vidya's father is injured, she and her family are relocated to her paternal uncle's house where life is much different for her than it was living in her father's less orthodox home. The details of life in India at this time and the experiences of women in this particular culture is this book's strength. I found it so interesting. Vidya is strong and opinionated. The story is told from her perspective as she struggles against the traditions and expectations that keep women subservient to men. The general history of India and their treatment by the British is also wove into the story, along with the normal World War ll concerns about Germany and Japan. It provides an interesting comparison--the Indians nonviolent fight against British occupation, Britain's fight against German and Japanese domination, and Vidya's fight against society's expected male domination. I thought it very ironic, given the setting and how much she was wanting to break away from male authority, that the treatment Vidya receives from most of the men in her life is encouraging and helpful, while many women around her are determined to see her miserable.
My main complaint about the story was how quickly it was wrapped up in the end. It felt rushed and abrupt to me. But the historical and cultural content was great.
Profile Image for Edie.
465 reviews14 followers
June 7, 2008
While this is a very ambitious book, tackling the British rule of India, Gandhiji's efforts to a non-violent revolution, the role of women in India during World War II, a young girl's sense of guilt over her father's life altering injury and her ambition which flies in the face of tradition and some family expectations. But the author pulls it off well, the heroine's voice is clear and genuine and at least this reader identified with her and cared about her. While some of the secondary characters seemed very flat and stereotypical (you can read this as a Cinderella story, the wicked stepmother is really the wicked sister-in-law, the handsome prince is a potential college student whose plans include MIT)the issues are genuine and this will have broad appeal I think.
Profile Image for mirnatius.
720 reviews36 followers
October 14, 2020
Rep: Indian cast. Jewish side character.

A great story taking place in World War 2 that doesn’t center the U.S, England, or France, but India instead. The main character is a fifteen year old girl and her perspective is one I enjoyed to follow. There’s a lot she is going through in this story and I admired the strength she had throughout the book, just like I did with the other Venkatraman book I read. I loved the hopefulness this book gave off and I hope Padma Venkatraman will continue to write more of these stories.

war, Indian caste system, colonialism, Nazi and WW2 stuff, racism and slurs, riots, violence, police and military brutality, physical trauma, protests, ableism and ableist slurs, menstruating, Anti-Japanese slur, some binary language, anti-semitism (one scene has this in particular that I think should’ve been handled better), g-slur (wasn’t a fan of the introduction of a Romani character, it seemed to fall into a stereotype), pro- U.S sentiments (some lines about how slavery in the U.S was not given much thought), scene regarding how the MC and her brother had wished her father had died instead of becoming disabled.
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,950 reviews108 followers
July 5, 2011
It is 1941 and 15 year old Vidya is a lucky girl. Though she was born into India’s upper Brahman caste, her parents are very liberal; she is able to attend a private girls’ school; and she can dream about the possibility of going to college, a rare privilege for Indian women, who are expected to marry relatively young. And she is exceedingly proud when she discovers that her father, a doctor, is using his medical skills helping the injured victims of Ghandi’s non-violent Freedom Fighters, as they demonstrate against British colonialism and for an independent India.

Vidya seems to have everything until one rash act brings it all to an end. While riding in the car with her father, they are forced to stop when they encounter a Freedom Fighter demonstration and Vidya jumps out of the car to join them. They quickly get separated as she swept into the crowd. Running after her, her father stops to help a woman who has been beaten by a British policeman who then brutally beats him too. Vidya’s father survives, but he is now severely brain damaged, a shell of his former self.

The family is forced to move to Madras, to live with her father’s more traditional family. And it is clear from the start that they are not welcomed. Vidya’s aunt and her cousin Malati treat her with pure resentment and contempt, constantly reminding Vidya that her beloved father is now little more than an ‘idiot’ and no one will want to marry her because of that. The only relief Vidya gets from her new life is escape through the books she discovers in her grandfather’s library. And it is there she meets Raman, another unwelcome person in the house.

As if the move to Madras weren’t enough, after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the war also begins to affect the family's daily lives. A bomb shelter is built in the house, sirens wail and air raid drills begin at night and rationing starts. But when Vidya’s brother, Kitta, announces that he is joining the voluntary British India Army, despite their father’s non-violent beliefs, the war really hits home. The Japanese, he explains to her, are coming closer and closer and would like the victory of taking India, “…the Jewel in the British Crown.” (pg 171)

Throughout everything, Vidya has never told anyone the circumstances of her father’s beating by the British, though she feels completely responsible. It is a difficult burden for a 15 year old to live with. Now with the possibility of never seeing Kitta again, it is doubly difficult. It is beginning to feel like all of Vidya’s hopes and dreams are going be swallowed up by loss and tradition. Can she find the strength to overcome the adverse circumstances she finds herself in, and become the independent woman she wants to be?
Reading Climbing the Stairs made me realize that I know almost nothing about the impact World War II had on India and the role India played. It also made me aware of how little I really know about Indian culture. But Padma Venkatraman has done a wonderful job of weaving together information about both in Vidya’s story.

The first this I noticed in Climbing the Stairs is the importance of religion. Daily life revolves the Hindu religion and Venkatraman has named many of the chapters after the different religious festivals. As Vidya helps prepare for these days, she also describes for the reader the spiritual reason for the celebration, the preparations involved and the way the holiday is celebrated within the family.

Penkatraman also deftly incorporates the structure and way of life in a traditional Indian household and the difficulties the more modern Vidya encounters as she tries to adjust to living with her extended family in Madras. Vidya had experienced life in this household during summer visits, but living it full time is another story.
Climbing the Stairs is an excellent coming of age set in a time and place many readers might not know about. For me, it was an opportunity to read about the impact of World War II on a young person in circumstances not familiar to me. The story never favors a modern way of life over the traditional Indian way, and it doesn’t ask the reader to make a judgment either. Instead, it shows that the best of both could be part of Indian life. Of course, knowing that India becomes an independent country in 1947, Vidya seemed to me to be a symbol of a new India – a perfect blend of both tradition and modern.

My only complaint about this book is that I would have liked a pronunciation guide for some of the Indian words and a map that showed both the colonial name and the Indian name of the places mentioned.

Other than that, I think Climbing the Stairs is an excellent debut novel by Padma Venkatraman as well as the perfect addition to any reading on diversity and I would highly recommend it

This book is recommended for readers 12 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.
Profile Image for Anne Osterlund.
Author 5 books5,523 followers
August 23, 2010
Vidya is a fifteen-year-old girl living in Bombay, India during World War II. She loves climbing trees, spending time with her friend, Rifka, and her dog, Raja. And she has dreams of going to college. A dream her father promises to help make come true.

But her father is a member of Gandhi’s non-violent freedom fighter movement against the British. And when Vidya rushes out into the street in the midst of a protest, her entire world changes.

Into the strangling, tradition-bound realm of her grandfather’s house.

But it is there where Vidya finds the library. And meets Hans Christian Anderson. And Thoreau.

And Raman, the young man who is not entirely incapable of accepting new ideas.

And it is there where Vidya must face the realities of growing up.

Padma Venkatraman’s CLIMBING THE STAIRS is a smooth, gorgeous read set in a time of great change within a culture steeped in tradition. You can smell the fruit and see the flowers and feel the sunshine. And discover with Vidya all the truths which lie beneath the surface.
Profile Image for Rachel.
19 reviews2 followers
October 13, 2012
I absolutely loved this novel! I found the characters to be inspiring and entertaining! Vidya's story is touching and her struggles and triumphs are what makes the novel perfect for young adult readers. I love the genre of historical fiction so the book was a perfect fit for me. I found it very interesting to read about a completely new point of view during such a troubling time in the world's history.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in culturally diverse texts and historical fiction novels.
Profile Image for Peggy.
257 reviews4 followers
January 22, 2009
This is the story of a 15-year-old girl in British-occupied India during World War II and her struggle to be her own person and go to college instead of following the traditions of her strict culture. It is a good role model for girls today. There is outstanding imagery portrayed in descriptive language with good insight into Indian culture and religion. The realistic characterization uses opposites to portray the father/uncle and brother/sister. Prejudice is captured in the description of the Nazi/Indian caste systems and in the thought-provoking information provided, including the swastika being used as a religious symbol in India before the Nazis used it. This is the story of a struggle of a people trying to gain freedom--from Britain and from each other. Her father was active in protests but did not speak up in his brother's house. The effects of war can be seen in everyone's lives. Vidya found her escape in books--climbing the stairs to the library symbolized her courage to be herself and move forward. This would not be suitable for elementary-age children--it includes the changes of puberty--but these changes are handled in good taste. This is an outstanding book!
13 reviews1 follower
October 7, 2014
This book did not really hold my interest. It was a good story, but there was not enough going on in it for me. However, I did like that the book offered me a perspective on the Indian culture that I had never considered before. It was interesting for me to read about the family dynamics and the way their social society is set up. The book did leave me with some questions. How Vidya and her family were treated after Appa's accident truly disturbed me. How could a family act like that? Is that a cultural thing? It truly confused me.
I think this book is worth reading, even though I would never suggest it to someone looking for a fun, quick, good book to read. I liked it for the insight it gave into a culture that is different from my own. Additionally, I can see using parts of the book in a social studies class to study World War 2 from the perspective on those who lived in India.
Lastly, I didn't feel as if the book left me with closure. I am curious about what happens with Kitta, and where Vidya and Raman ended up.
February 26, 2015
The writing was often overly simplistic and abrupt for my tastes and some of the characters could have used a little deeper development but overall a book that I really enjoyed.

My absolute favorite part was the setting. There are countless books set during World War II and there are books set during India's revolution but I've never encountered one that captures both. Climbing the Stairs is set in India in the early 1940s which was a time of important cultural and political change. However it also focuses a great deal on how World War II affected India and its citizens. So much of the WWII literature out there focuses on Europe or even the U.S. So this was a refreshing and fascinating change. I look forward to learning more about it.

Overall a great read that was enlightening, empowering, interesting, and emotional.
Profile Image for Kristy.
592 reviews84 followers
July 22, 2010
3.5 stars.

I really had no expectations going into this book, honestly I didn't really think i was going to be all that thrilled with it.
But, as the book got started I realized it was a really good story.
Based in India during WWII, Vidya wants to become more than just another housewife. Her utmost desire is to go to college.
Sadly, I never have really thought about India during the war; It was such a confusing time for them. Seeing as they believe in non-violence, but yet they are a house divided because many are changing their belief to save others' lifes.

This book has a little bit of a romance going on, but it's seriously the last 75 pages before it really even begins. Mostly it's about Vidya growing up and Indian culture and customs.
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews266 followers
September 1, 2016
I enjoyed this novel with the unusual setting of India during World War II. Teenager Vidya's life is turned upside down when her father suffers a brain injury and she and her family are forced to move in with her strict grandfather's clan. I was fascinated with the depiction of the difference between the life of women and the life of men in a traditional Brahmin household. Vidya's struggle to resist a pre-arranged marriage and go to college instead is uplifting. I was sorry to see the story end, and look forward to reading more by this author.
Profile Image for Garett.
17 reviews
October 11, 2012
The story of Vidya, a girl entering the turbulent times of adolescence during equally turbulent times in early 1940's India, is as intriguing to read as it is informational. Vidya's peaceful struggle for her freedom in a society that expects women to only marry, is nicely paralleled with the people of India's non-vilolent resistance against the British occupation that subjects the people of India. She is to women what Gandhi was for India. Courage and hope.
13 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2012
I enjoyed learning about the difference in cultures between Vidya's and my own. The way the extended family treated her , Kitta, appa, and amma frustrated me. But overall I did like the book.
Profile Image for Prakarsha Pilla.
113 reviews5 followers
April 16, 2022
A feel-good read of a girl's life navigating through pre-independent India. At a tumultuous time when Indian soldiers were fighting th British and the world was fighting WW-II, Vidya was fighting patriarchy to go to college.
After the British hit her father to make him disabled, she moves with her family to her grandparents' ancestral house. She is often seen as a burden. She defies the norms of the family to go to the library which was in the men's area of the house. She reads books voraciously and has big plans of going to college.
While I don't know the accuracy of the history mentioned in the book, I appreciate the themes of it. Vidya is much different from any other female character of the book (and of her time) who are limited to cooking, serving and making babies. As she reads extensively, she even has opinions on the war and our freedom struggle.
It is important to read about those time and the uncertainty of living in a country fighting it's government. Extreme casteism and patriarchy added too.
The characters are all well-crafted, depicting a typical Indian family. Some stereotypes can be apparently seen today too. It makes me wonder how many Vidyas have probably succumbed to these stereotypes and didn't climb the stairs.
The title has a strong and impactful significance. Climbing the stairs implies progress as well as going beyond the limits set.
The writing is completely in an Indian style. The English is very simple. It is a slow read. I would suggest it to anyone who is interested in the premise.
102 reviews
August 2, 2022
I first read this in middle school and remember being obsessed with it to the point where I thought it was one of the best books I ever read.

Half a decade later, it’s still a good book. I like the imagery and it’s overall very well-written (dialogue, prose, side characters, setting).

With that being said, I didn’t really like the MC. She was very privileged, spoiled, and rude, and even though she starts to experience character development towards the end, it’s not enough to come full circle in my opinion.

Also, I think the book could’ve gone deeper with several themes. I feel like the author barely scratches the surface. It IS a short book and geared towards younger readers so of course there’s only so much you can do in 240 pages. I just didn’t find it as hard hitting as when I first read it.

Overall: nice read, light and enjoyable, not super deep but beautifully written. I’d even read it again, to be honest!
Profile Image for Becky.
5,093 reviews97 followers
July 9, 2019
Venkatraman, Padma. 2008. Climbing the Stairs.

Set in India during the early years of World War II, Climbing the Stairs is narrated by a charming young woman, 15, Vidya, who dreams of nothing more than going to college and continuing her education. She has an older brother, Kitta, a best friend, Rifka. When the novel begins, Vidya seems to have everything she wants within her grasp. Her parents have agreed that she won't be put on the marriage market quite yet unlike her cousin, Malati. And on a special father-daughter bonding trip, her father even agrees that she should go to college. And then....and then tragedy strikes.

Vidya's life isn't easy. It's in just as much turmoil--it seems--as India itself. There is within India a movement, a freedom movement, to create an independent India free from British rule and oppression. But there is also a call from the British to rise up and join the British ranks--British soldiers--on the field fighting the Axis powers. Yet Vidya's family at least--and presumably many others as well--believe in nonviolence. Affirm that all killing, all war is wrong. It doesn't matter who you're opposing, to take up arms is in itself wrong.

Vidya makes for a charming narrator for many reasons. But one of the reasons that I fell so in love with her as a narrator is the fact that she loves to read, loves to learn. When tragedy forces the family to move from their own home to her paternal grandfather's home, she doesn't give up hope, not completely. Life is very, very different. Very, very unpleasant. And yet, she always finds something to hold onto. And one of her greatest resources is her grandfather's library.

Climbing the Stairs. What does that mean exactly? Well, her grandfather and his family--his large extended family--live in a house. The men live upstairs. The women live downstairs. Women are not allowed in the men's domain. The library--technically speaking--should be off limits to her simply because of her sex, her gender. Women are not valued, not respected. Young women, girls, are seen merely as future wives, future mothers. They have no value except what value is placed on them by the men in their lives--father, brother, husband.

I absolutely loved this historical fiction novel. Definitely recommended.
13 reviews1 follower
October 7, 2013
I was very much entranced by Climbing the Stairs, so much so that I read it in one night! Having grown up in a more strict home environment than what my friends had as a child/teenager, I could very well relate to Vidya's struggle for her own independence and identity, although our circumstances were vastly different. The ending actually left me wishing that Venkatraman would write a sequel-would've loved to have read how Vidya/Raman's relationship progressed further, if she ever did take that trip to America, and if her father ever got any better.

As much as I expected to despise the male characters in the book, with the exception of Periappa, I actually found them far more likable than many of the females, such as Periamma, Malati and Sarasa Chithi, who were nasty beyond belief at times. I find it ironic that in a male-dominated world, such as India was (and probably still is today, in many ways) Vidya's staunchest supporters were men. Male characters like Appa, Raman and Thatha really help, for me anyway, to dissolve the typical stereotype of Indian men that is portrayed so often in the media-as being controlling and feeling that women are beneath them. Sure, many Indian men have and still think this way, such as Periappa, but it was a relief to see that not all the men in the book were like that.

I actually learned quite a bit about Indian culture while reading the book, although most of the unfamiliar terms and festivals/customs did throw me through a loop at first. From reading, I have realized just how spiritual Indians are, and of their devotion and duty to family, even though that's primarily based on their caste/dowry system, which I'm not crazy about. I decided not to consult any outside sources just to avoid information overload, and rely on the book only, which helped to tie in what I was learning in relation to the story as a whole.I was surprised by how similar India's and America's histories were similar, in regards to being under British rule, and eventually breaking free from it altogether.
Profile Image for Alicia.
9 reviews
April 11, 2021
.5 Stars.
Really, yes, I disliked it that much. Note that I read this around a month ago, so I've cooled down A LOT

Maybe it was because we had to read it in-class for school, but more likely than not, it was the characters. There may be spoilers below~

All right, so CTS is a story about a 15-year-old girl who struggles against the stereotypes to try and attend college in a man's world while the move for Indian Independence is raging. Main characters are Vidya, her brother Kitta, her father "appa", and her love interest, Raman.

Vidya: I absolutely detested her. I mean, sure, I get that you're having a hard time, but you're so shallow, and like, have you ever heard of working for it? Along with the fact that she's so utterly perfect in the way of events. Everything goes her way when it really shouldn't, and seriously, like on her journey to find Kitta, the woman she met didn't take her money, the man who helped her find him didn't jail her, he was nice. He also wanted to recruit her... like WHAT THE HECK. Let's say you're the CEO of your company. A 15-year-old girl comes in. Do you say that you would like to have her on your board within 5 minutes of meeting her? Heck, no. Seriously, she was such a Sympathy Sue, she would try to defy something or someone, but she'd crumple at the first signs of someone defying her back. Like, HAVE SOME BACKBONE, GIRL! Aaand a lot more that I'd write, except I left my annotated copy of CTS at school so yeah, you're not getting even part of the rant

Again, too lazy to review Kitta and Raman and appa, but know that they're all cardboard cutouts. I liked the cultural part of the story and how it was actually a decent historical fiction in terms of the history, but that's it.
Profile Image for Amber.
11 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2013
This was an interesting novel set in India that displays one girls struggle for independence. It is set during World War II and the last days of British occupation in India. The main character is Vidya, she is a fifteen-year-old girl living in Bombay with dreams of attending college. He father was friends with Gandi and was apart of the freedom fighter movement. The peak of this novel is when Vidya rushes out into the street in the midst of a protest. She also struggles with acceptance of the traditional life of an Indian woman. Vidya finds comfort in her grandfathers library which is off limits to woman. There she meets Ramen who relishes her intellectual curiosity. Climbing the Stairs is a powerful story about love and loss set against a fascinating historical backdrop.

I think any woman can identify with the struggle of finding her self, yet, I did not specifically connect with the main character, Vidya. The thing that I did relate with was the determination to create her own destiney eith dedication and hard work. Although, I do not have to push against the world against woman’s rights like Vidya did. I also would not be where I am today, finishing my Bachelors degree and 3rd Associates, with out the support of my family. The life challenges that she has faced make her human and supply her with the want to make her father and family proud and carry on his legacy as a knowledgeable Indian. I think Venkatraman did a nice job with detailing the historical and cultural events. I was unaware of the details about the freedom fighter movement against the British. So, that was nice to be informed about.
16 reviews
October 9, 2012
The novel “Climbing the Stairs”, may not start out as an exciting story, but when you consider the period in time (WWII) and the country (India during the occupation of the British government), I was able to become interested in this young woman’s life and that of her family relation. Her father Appa was not the “traditional” Indian father figure at that time; meaning he was more understanding of how women and the non-Brahmim class were treated. He considers caste system as a “social evil”. I believed women should be treated as “equals”; he would permit his daughter to go to college same as her brother, Kitta. When Vidya’s father was seriously injured, the family was forced to move into her grandfathers’ household with extended family members. Vidya’s life was turned upside down. Vidya’s and her family were treated badly by some of the extended members, but her grandfather, Thata, allowed her to “climb the stairs” to the upper level of the house to “enjoy” the library; up until now that privilege was reserved for the men only. This story has a tender and realistic climax; I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in reading about a young woman from a somewhat vintage society; how she was able to cope and succeed while remaining true to her convictions.
Profile Image for Toni .
15 reviews
October 12, 2013
My first impression of Climbing the Stairs is that if you are not familiar with the Indian Culture you can get a little lost. The setting is very Indian oriented and I feel this novel connects with Realistic Fiction. However, as you read this novel it will have you wanting to read more. Vidya who was 15 years old was a very determine young lady caught my attention. Vidya worried so much because within the Indian culture women are too marry and not educate themselves. However, this was not what Vidya wanted she wants so much to finish school and attend college and pursue her dream in life. Vidya’s father who was a well-known doctor that broken away from his traditional upbringing, promised her that he would send her to college, however things rapidly changed when Vidya’s father was assaulted which left him in a mental state, so the family had to move in with their grandfather along with other members of their family. Vidya’s grandfather runs a traditional household the men sleep upstairs and the women sleep downstairs they meet at dinner only meeting for dinner. Vidya struggles with feeling guilty of being the cause of her father’s mental illness. I believe this is a good novel to read.
8 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2014
'Climbing the Stairs" is a novel of a girl named Vidya who dreams of pursuing her education. She lives in a society in which that lofty goal is often only unattainable. This book takes place in India, during the Imperialistic British rule. It was a time in which Indians were treated as second class citizens in their own country. During an act of brutal violence, Vidya's life takes an unexpected turn in which she is left the choice of either following her family's dreams, or her own. The story explores the dual concepts of what is was like to live in an occupied India, as well as achieving personal independence through education, which go against the cultural norms of her own Indian society. The nuanced exploration of the line between preserving one's own culture, while being occupied by another, and yet wanting to break free of certain societal pressures is a theme prominent throughout this novel. I personally found this book to be extremely meaningful and touching. It's a story that applies to every generation of young immigrant woman who struggle with wanting to retain cultural identity, without having to give up their personal aspirations , and individuality. All in all, it was a great story, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone in search of a heartfelt story.
15 reviews
September 29, 2013
Initially I was not sure if I was going to be able to connect with this book due to the cultural differences. However, after reading the first 20 pages or so I began to better understand the characters and the dialog. I was able to make connections with several characters in the book, especially with Vidya. I found myself relating to her wishes to continue to study and attend college. Although I have never been told that I could not further my education I can understand her frustration if she was forced to marry and not continue with her education.
I learned a lot about the overall culture, in that, I did not realize the extent to which the women were married off at such a young age. I also was surprised to read about the strict separation of men and women in the home. Also, the extent to which the women must serve the men and that they do not directly speak with one another, or at least not regularly. I did not need to consult any outside sources while reading; I found the author did a nice job of describing things in a way which could be understood. Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel more than I anticipated.
Profile Image for Déja.
143 reviews
May 25, 2014
4.5 Stars

Wow! Let me just say I have never been so angry and upset about the antagonists in a story before. Periappa, periammma, and the mean Aunt were so terrible! The teacher as well. I forgive the cousin though. Also, this is one of the most befitting titles of a book I have seen yet.

The British man was so kind, I almost couldn't believe it, in the context of the book. I loved that part and Thata as well.

I wish to have known more about Vidya's brother and Appa especially, as well as Raman. I feel those three characters did not receive enough mentioning and development in the book, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

Vidya has spunk! I really, truly love the strong female role in this book. The character showed such an open, independent, head strong mind. I was glad when she finally let go of her "mistake".

Although I do not following all the writings of Hinduism, some of the things it stands for, I love (especially the festivals)! Ghandiji was truly a peaceful warrior.

I do wish for a sequel or companion book. I think It's all that's left that I could ask for with this book.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
13 reviews1 follower
November 22, 2014
This novel is an interesting look back into the society and culture of India during World War II as told from the perspective on an ambitious young woman. It is Vidya’s progressive personality which helps to make the novel more relatable than it otherwise would be. Think Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, that novel continues to be the most well known of Austen’s work not only because of the romance but because Lizzy is a protagonist who transcends her time period. The two actually have a lot in common. Like Lizzy, Vidya would rather read than be in an unhappy marriage. I enjoyed the perspective into India during this time period, because I hadn’t really had any exposure to it previously, so it made for a refreshing change. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in this setting and also to anyone interested in learning more about the progression of feminism around the world and within the last century. Many of the things expected of Vidya are completely shocking to today’s audience, but this was the reality at the time. Give it a read if you think the setting or the topic might be up your street.
Profile Image for Christine.
1,140 reviews13 followers
April 20, 2009
I have to say that this is my favorite way to learn history, through a novel, set in a foreign country during an era less known to me. Vidya is an Indian girl growing up in World War II India. This novel touches on the Hindu caste system, British rule of India, and Hitler’s army encroaching ever closer to her home. Talking through Vidya, the author gives us insight into the Hindu religion and way of life in 1942 India. Vidya is a dutiful and independent minded daughter of Brahmin parents. Her father a doctor and her mother a loving and devoted wife. Vidya and her brother Kitta are close to both of their parents and to each other. The author, Padma Venkatraman, gives us an idea of how Indians feel about the dominance of British rule without making all Brits the bogey man. She also relates well the positive and negative aspects of the over-protectiveness of the males over the females of the Indian culture. I really enjoyed this book and it piqued in me an interest to read up on world religions and cultures.
Profile Image for Debbie.
301 reviews35 followers
August 12, 2009
Vidya is a bright ambitious girl who lives in Bombay with her family during WWII. After a tragic accident, her family has to move to another city and live with their extended family, whose way of life is much more restrictive than Vidya is used to.

I know very very little about India, so I found this book enjoyably informative. (History is so much easier to learn from novels than from textbooks.) I had heard of Gandhi of course, but I probably couldn't have told you that he was associated with freedom fighters ("fighters" - they were non-violent) who were working for their independence from Britain. And meanwhile, other Indians were joining the British army. The Author's Note says that "so many Indians enlisted in the ranks that the British Indian contingent became the largest all-volunteer force to participate" in WWII. I had never thought before about India's involvement in WWII.

So here's where the textbooks are more thorough - this book only covers about a year, so I didn't learn how India finally gained independence. Vidya, however, has her freedom at the end.
Profile Image for Sheryl.
17 reviews4 followers
August 26, 2010
The premise of the book sounded very interesting and I did enjoy the description of India as a British colony during World War II. However, I found it difficult to really like the main character. She seemed at once both too modern (I kept forgetting that the setting was WWII and not the 21st century) and too shallow. She feels great guilt for what happened to her father but does little to alleviate this guilt. She feels bad for her mother but doesn't often try to comfort her. She believes in non-violence but frequently gets mad and 'rages' at her brother and Raman. I just found it hard to like her and sympathize with how 'hard' her life was when I could compare her Brahman circumstances with the surroundings and lives of the poorer classes in India's streets. Vidya seemed very judgmental throughout the entire book without really ever undergoing a transformation and 'growing up'.

This book has, however, made me want to learn more about the jewel of the British empire. Overall the book was not terrible but not particularly gripping.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 598 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.