Jignasha's Reviews > The Rice Mother

The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
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The Rice Mother starts with the story of Lakshmi, a young, carefree Sri Lankan girl whose world is turned upside down when, at fourteen, she is married off to a much older man from Malaysia under the pretext of riches and luxury.

Duped but refusing to cower down, Lakshmi faces her struggles bravely, and has six children by the time she's turned 19. Lakshmi's struggles to keep her house running, and her family functioning are commendable, and just when things are beginning to go uphill, the Japanese invade Malaysia during World War II. Overnight, her world changes, as young girls turn into boys, and Lakshmi has to hide her oldest daughter (who is described to be as beautiful as the celestial Apsara Menaka) from the Japanese soldiers.

Midway during the book, an event during this war changes the family, beyond the point of no return. We watch the six children grow up (each have their own chapters as narrators) to be drunk gamblers, idlers, or good for nothing miserable wretches. Lakshmi becomes cruel with every passing day, and regularly turns her children's lives to hell, all in the name of protecting them.

The problem lies with the second half, when the children and their wives and their kids all get their own POVs, making the read a tedious one, as there isn't enough depth or focus to actually care about them. What starts off as a notable journey of a woman's resilience to extreme conditions soon turns into a mess with the litany of characters thrown in, all of whom are first-rate losers. After a point, the prose, overwrought with sentimentality, fails to evoke sympathy, and I was left wishing for it to end soon.

The book has its shining moments, of course - Lakshmi's husband, although dumb and weak, is shown to be a wonderful man, who the children turn to when their mother becomes a force of terror. His experience with the war is one of the highlights of the book, but fails to save the work as a whole. There is redemption at the end, not for Lakshmi and her brood, but for the great granddaughter, who finally discovers, and accepts the tragic legacy of her ancestors, to redeem herself from the sorrows in her own life.

All in all, 3 stars, because it isn't a bad book by any standard, but in my opinion, rather forgettable.

Some quotes I loved:

“I was born in Ceylon in 1916 at a time when spirits walked the earth just like people, before the glare of electricity and the roar of civilization had frightened them away into the concealed hearts of the forests.”

“Life had yet to teach me that a child’s love can never equal a mother’s pain.”

“I have been weak and pathetic because I forgot that love comes and goes like the dye that colours a garment. I mistook love for the garment. Family is the garment. Let her wear her family with pride.”
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Reading Progress

February 25, 2017 – Started Reading
February 25, 2017 – Shelved
March 4, 2017 –
page 330
March 5, 2017 – Finished Reading

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