The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka

This is the story of Lakshmi, a young Ceylonese girl brought to Malaya in 1930, as the young bride of an older man, and her children and grandchildren.

Lakshmi narrates the first part of the book, where she explains about her childhood and how she is tricked into marriage, but then goes on to have six children.  The baton is then passed between various characters as we witness events from their individual points of view and learn how the tragedy that befell Lakshmi’s family haunted the further generations.  The book ends up in the current day, and as a result the reader is presented with details of the a changing country, and learns how WWII shaped and changed the lives of so many.

To give away much more of the plot would be to start revealing spoilers, but suffice to say that this is an enchanting and moving read.  The narrators all have their own distinct personalities and perceptions of various events and each other.  Some parts were harrowing to read as people struggled with the effects of the war, made wrong decisions and lived with regret.  Lakshmi is the matriarch of this family and her strength, intelligence and determination are clear for all to see.

Malay(si)a is brought to vivid life, and I felt able to really imagine the place with all it’s vibrancy and energy.  Towards the end, the language did become a little bit ‘flowery’ and I felt that the book was perhaps slightly too long, although it packed a lot into it’s pages and certainly never got boring.

This was the debut novel by this author and very impressive it is too.  I will be seeking out further work by Rani Manicka.

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