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The Toss of a Lemonby Padma Viswanathan
Synopses & Reviews
The year of the marriage proposal, Sivakami is ten. She is neither tall nor short for her age, but she will not grow much more. Her shoulders are narrow but appear solid, as though the blades are fused to protect her heart from the back. She carries herself with an attractive stiffness: her shoulders straight and always aligned. She looks capable of bearing great burdens, not as though born to yoke but perhaps as though born with a yoke within her.
Spanning the lifetime of one woman (1896–1962), The Toss of a Lemon brings us intimately into a Brahmin household, into an India we’ve never before seen. Married at ten, widowed at eighteen, left with two children, Sivakami must wear widow’s whites, shave her head, and touch no one from dawn to dusk. She is not allowed to remarry, and in the next sixty years sheventures outside her family compound only three times. She is extremely orthodox in her behavior except for one defiant act: She moves back to her dead husband’s house and village to raise her children. That decision sets the course of her children’s and grandchildren’s lives, twisting their fates in surprising, sometimes heartbreaking ways.
Inspired by her grandmother's stories, Padma Viswanathan masterfully brings to life a profoundly exotic yet utterly recognizable family in the midst of social and political upheaval. The Toss of a Lemon is the debut of a major new writer.
Sivakami was married at ten, widowed at eighteen, and left with two children. According to the dictates of her caste, her head is shaved and she puts on widow's whites. From dawn to dusk, she is not allowed to contaminate herself with human touch, not even to comfort her small children.
Sivakami dutifully follows custom, except for one defiant act: She moves back to her dead husband's house to raise her children. There, her servant Muchami, a closeted gay man who is bound by a different caste's rules, becomes her public face. Their singular relationship holds three generations of the family together through the turbulent first half of the twentieth century, as India endures great social and political change. But as time passes, the family changes, too; Sivakami's son will question the strictures of the very beliefs that his mother has scrupulously upheld.
The Toss of a Lemon is heartbreaking and exhilarating, profoundly exotic yet utterly recognizable in evoking the tensions that change brings to every family.
Masterfully brings to life a profoundly exotic yet utterly recognizable family in the midst of social upheaval in an evocative story that spans the lifetime of one woman in a Brahmin household from 1896 through 1962, in a novel inspired by the author's grandmother's stories.
About the Author
PADMA VISWANATHAN is a fiction writer, playwright, and journalist. She was awarded first place in the 2006 Boston Review Short Story Contest. She lives with the poet and translator Geoffrey Brock and their children in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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