12 January 2009

Review: House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar

Davidar follows three generations of Dorai men as they struggle to find their place in India as it morphs from a passive British colony to an independent state.

My Summary: At the turn of the twentieth century, Solomon Dorai, headman of the southern village of Chevathar, has made minor concessions to British rule and the modern world. But he finds it impossible to shed the traditions of the caste system and the emotions of family rivalries. Solomon wants nothing more than to keep the peace in his town and to pass his mango groves and social status onto one of his sons, but the boys are interested in the wider world. Aaron dreams of an independent India, and Daniel wants to be a doctor.

In a familiar karmic cycle of rebirth and death, each generation must establish itself anew, shedding the sins of those who came before while attempting to find the correct path to the future. Daniel's son, Kannan, grows up in especially turbulent times. Like all men of his generation, he is forced to place a bet: Who will control India, the British or the Indians? This choice will have lasting effects on Kannan and the Dorai family.

My Thoughts: Davidar, a native Indian, relegates politics to the background of the story. Instead, he focuses on the lives of Solomon, Daniel, and Kannan, none of whom is active in the independence movement. In this way, we learn how the events of twentieth-century India affected ordinary, somewhat well-off families.

Unfortunately, the pace of the book is variable. Solomon's story is well told and contains a fair amount of drama. Daniel is the most interesting of the men, but here the plot begins to drag. By part three, Kannan's story, it becomes easy to stop caring about the Dorais. Despite the tangents and slow pacing, The House of Blue Mangoes offers a fresh perspective on India's push to self-rule.

I listened to the novel on CD (obtained through interlibrary loan), read by Robert Whitfield. I am no expert on accents, but I was particularly impressed with Whitfield's ability to speak with an Indian accent that was believable and in no way a parody.

I read this book as part of a number of challenges (listed below). For more information about any of them and to see what other participants are reading, click on the name above the progress bar in the left margin.

Audio published by Blackstone, 2002
ISBN-13: 97809786195282
Challenges: Winter Reading, A-Z Author, Well-Seasoned Reader, New Authors, Support Your Library, 100+, Audiobooks, 999
YTS: 3
Rating: C+


Anonymous,  1/12/09, 11:01 AM  

The description and the cover look so promising. Sorry to hear it dragged some.

Melissa 1/12/09, 11:23 AM  

I, too, am sorry it dragged some. The idea sounds fascinating. I might pick it up, if only to get the fresh perspective you talked about.

Nely 1/12/09, 11:52 AM  

Thanks for the review. I recently saw it on amazon and was intrigued, but I think I'll pass.

S. Krishna 1/12/09, 12:00 PM  

This one sounds interesting, but I've been reading too many slow books lately. Maybe I'll read it next year...

Marie Cloutier 1/12/09, 12:02 PM  

this is one i'm going to have to pick up. love books about india. :-)

Sandy Nawrot 1/12/09, 12:02 PM  

I appreciate the head's up! I would love to learn more about the Indian culture, and I might still pick it up. I go through the audio books pretty quickly!

Literary Feline 1/12/09, 2:08 PM  

This sounds like an interesting novel. I may have to give it a try. And thank you for the heads up about the slowing down of the plot--it's good sometimes to know that ahead of time so I'm not disappointed when it happens.

Beth F 1/12/09, 2:33 PM  

I wrote a glowing description because the idea of the book is interesting. And the novel is worth picking up -- especially when warned about the slow parts.

What I didn't mention in my summary are the wonderful descriptions of the mangoes and the food (meals)! They perked up the plot quite a bit for me.

Anonymous,  1/12/09, 8:19 PM  

Do you find you are more tolerant of books when it's on audio? If the story was basically interesting, I can stick with the dry patches better than if I was reading.

Tristi Pinkston 1/12/09, 8:45 PM  

Hey Beth,

I'm looking for some book reviewers to add to my contact list. Could you pop me a note at TristiATtristipinkston.com?

Anonymous,  1/12/09, 9:07 PM  

I can definitely see how you'd grow to like Kafka and Hugo. I'm not a big fan of James or Hardy and I've never read any Forester. Thanks for your comment!

Beth F 1/13/09, 6:42 AM  

J. Kaye: I agree completely. It is much easier to get through the slow spots when I'm listening than when I'm reading in print.

Olga 1/13/09, 4:32 PM  

It's interesting how the way the book is read if you listen to an audio version can change what you think of a book. I 'read' Robert Ellison's Invisible Man in audio, and I was captivated by the author's voice. I wonder if there are books that improve with the proper storyteller...

Anonymous,  1/13/09, 7:31 PM  

I'm sorry that it was a bit slow. The book caught my eye at the library and I have paged it.

Laura 1/17/09, 7:45 PM  

I read this book several years ago when it first came out and I really enjoyed it. It got me started finding and reading books set in India and I think because of that I remember it fondly.

Swarna 7/6/09, 4:54 AM  

That's a good frank review. I come from the same region in India as the characters in the book, and liked the story, and remember it most for Daniel's medical feats and 'mango travels'.

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