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The Toss of a Lemon

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  2,774 ratings  ·  482 reviews
In a fiction debut to rival The God of Small Things, Padma Viswanathan gives us a richly detailed and intimate vision of an India we've never seen.

Inspired by her family history, Padma Viswanathan brings us deep inside the private lives of a Brahmin family as the subcontinent moves through sixty years of intense social and political change. At the novel's heart is Sivakami
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Published (first published April 1st 2008)
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3.78  · 
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 ·  2,774 ratings  ·  482 reviews

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Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
Nov 25, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is powerful and fascinating! A life-changing book!
Dec 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jim Elkins
Mar 21, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian
Why I Don't Read Novels to Learn Anything

Reviewers on this site and LibraryThing call this novel "informative," and say it's a look into the "psyche" of a Brahman family in India. It is said to be an "epic," which opens a "window" onto a world many readers won't know, "enriching" our experience and making us more sympathetic to "exotic" customs and ideas. The book, in other words, functions in two ways: it's a romantic epic of a family, and it tells us about rural Brahman life in India. It's bot
Phew! Finally finished the book. It's been the "second book" in my Currently-Reading list for quite some time now... I did read few long books earlier, but this one felt to be much longer than all. That does not mean, that this book was not interesting.

I feel every book should have some kind of purpose - and in case of this book, it was not very clear as to what might be the purpose... It went on and on through generation to generation. But, then it now feels, maybe that's how reality and "real
Paula Margulies
Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nitya Sivasubramanian
I may have enjoyed this book much more if I didn't identify so aggressively with Vairum, the one character in the book who sees through the vapid traditional orthopraxy of tamil brahmins. In fact, this book so accurately captures almost every aspect of brahminical behavior that I find so offensive and distasteful that I was almost struck down with some sort of post traumatic stress from encounters with extended family in the past.

So while i salute the writing, I struggled with the book because
Dec 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
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
Doriana Bisegna
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

"The Toss ofa Lemon " by Padma Vishwanathan . This was a gift by one of my favorites here,@inkless.sne .The book is a multigenerational story of a TamilBrahmin family from 1896 to 1956 that revolves around the family matriarch Sivakami who is widowed at the tender age
of 18 and her children,grandchildren and great grand children .I could relate to this story so much being a TamBrahm myself and the bonus was that there was a character named Jaanaki in the book just like me .The book was even more
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this epic book based in Southeastern India, following a Brahmin family during the era of independence from Britain. I got lost quite a bit. the family tree was helpful. i wish there was a map. the underlying historic happenings were fascinating, along with the depiction of caste.
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew, there is a lot to process!

I was drawn to the book because I have a weakness for lemons. It's ridiculous; but I was drawn into "The Toss of a Lemon" pretty quickly. It took me through a lot of emotions, which I think is the mark of a good storyteller. I enjoyed many of the individual stories, and especially the unique (to me) view on Indian history. I felt the writing was impartial, giving history for setting, not any political aim. Since I am quite ignorant about this, I learned with the
Diane Kistner
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
May 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennifer Arnold
Dec 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
This novel started well but I found my interest lagging as it progressed. It explained vividly the rituals and superstitions of the Brahmin culture and presented an extremely dismal picture of the lives of Brahmin women in the first half of the 20th century.
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took me a long time to read - in part because it's longer than it looks (over 600 pages), but also because it's just a slow read. The Toss of a Lemon tells the story of three generations of a Brahmin family in a small village in India. Like most epics, it's a book that is more character driven than plot driven.

It was fascinating to read about a world so different from my own - everything from customs to faith to family practices were unfamiliar to me. But it was easy to relate to the f
This is an epic saga of a Tamil Brahmin family spanning more than 3 generations. The story starts in the late 19th century with the child marriage of the main protagonist, Shivakami at the age of 9. She bears two children, the eldest a girl with magical element of shedding gold dust from her body whenever she is emotionally disturbed, the younger one a boy, who is supposed to have killed his father due to his bad horoscope. The story unfolds to show the difficulties Shivakami face in bringing up ...more
Aug 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aban (Aby)
Nov 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Doreen, Nurjehan, Yash
This book is set in Southern India and is the story of four generations of upper caste (Brahmin) women, dating from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. One of these women, central to the book, is Sivakami. Married at 10 years, a widow with two children at 18 years, she is a strong, loving woman who puts family, duty, and caste above everything else. We see her raising her children and grandchildren. We observe, with compassion, her struggle with a son who rejects her o ...more
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Padma Viswanathan’s debut novel, The Toss of a Lemon, was published in eight countries, a bestseller in three, and a finalist for the Commonwealth (Regional) First Book Prize, the First Novel Prize and the Pen Center USA Fiction Prize. Her second novel, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, was published in Canada in spring of 2014, and shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It is forthcom ...more
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