Three main characters dominate the plot - Nataraj, brought up in a village in Tamil Nadu, Savitri, the daughter of a cook on a estate owned by an English couple, and Sarojini, brought up in Georgetown, British Guiana. Nataraj and Sarojini who are of the same generation eventually meet in England. Each chapter is devoted to one of these three characters and the characters take it in turn to tell their stories. However, the confusing part of the plot is that these stories are not told in the same timeframe at all, but this is not made clear to the reader in the initial stages of the novel.
The plot of the novel is a ambitious, detailed, intricate one, and although Maas does handle it with some degree of talent, especially for a first time novelist, the plot contains altogether too many coincidences. Maas is a highly imaginative and even intriguing storyteller, but some of the instances in this novel are simply too far-fetched for belief. Nevertheless, the novel makes interesting and pleasant reading throughout, and Maas' use of the language is vivid, evocative, fluent and delightful. The depictions of the various locales make particularly good reading.
Savitri is the most memorable character and perhaps the central protagonist of the novel, who charms with her beauty and innocence. Maas manages both to endear her to readers, and to create an aura of 'goodness' around this character. Unfortunately, not all the characters are equally well portrayed and quite a few fairly central characters appear somewhat one-dimensional. Maas does draw on stereotypes - the dominating Indian father, the rebellious teenaged girls, etc, but not to any damaging extent. Most of the characters do come with interesting little sketches of their life-stories, which rescues these characters from being dull. However, Maas is inclined to be a little heavy-handed with the concept of the "hero" and "heroine" of the novel, who are set up as such from the very beginning and just a little larger than life.
This novel is highly readable and generally enjoyble, but it could be just a little too sickly-sweet for the palates of some. One passage which I would deem quite characteristic of Maas' writing and of the novel in general is as follows:
When the flowers cried out, Savitri comforted them. She knew it hurt them to be picked so she always spoke to them first in her mind, and she knew they listened and brightened up when she did so. She told them how special they were, how beautiful, that that was why she had chosen them because she only picked the fullest, most beautiful, perfect blossoms for the Lord.
With a willing suspension of cynicism on the part of the reader, Maas' debut novel could be quite a lot of fun, but it does require some tolerance from the reader. It is a carefully crafted piece of writing, praise-worthy for its ability to entertain and absorb the reader, but reads more like a fairy-tale for adults than any realistic portrayal of the life of diasporic Indians.
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