Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sunlight on a broken column

Summary
Set in colonial India of the late 30s, Sunlight on a broken column by Attia Hosain paints a picture of a traditional, purdah-observing upper crust Muslim family in Lucknow. Narrated by the protagonist, a 15-year old Laila (who does not observe purdah), born into a wealthy family of taluqdars, but orphaned at an early age, the narrative follows her through her teenage years and early twenties, in what is essentially a coming-of-age story during tumultuous times of a freedom struggle and partition.

What worked for me
The language, the pace. It’s not a large book – it’s about 300 pages, more like a novella than a novel, yet it manages to maintain that there-is-all-the-time-in-the-world-for-this-story kind of pace. The language is lilting, almost poetic, and has the grandeur of Urdu in it. Not for a minute do you feel, that the subject matter could have been better expressed in Hindi or Urdu. This is not really a plot driven book, but the narrative evolves through its characters seen through Laila’s eyes. The book begins with a slice of life depiction and it does a fantastic job of looking at day-to-day life like a 15-year old. It reminded me of how I was when I was 15. Slightly self-centered, questioning, over-confident, highly distractible. Laila is all those things and it makes her an endearing protagonist. What I also enjoyed is the depiction of wealthy Muslims – their customs and traditions all portrayed through every-day events. The books starts with Laila’s life – her dreams, her desires and then it slowly but deliberately weaves a thick mesh of love, ambition and most importantly of a way of life that soon must become extinct. In that it evokes the same nostalgia, a wistful longing, a lament of sorts really that resonates with Gone with the Wind.

What did not work for me
The end. I did not really like how Hosain chose to end the book. It ends on a positive note, but I got the feeling that it was all too-constructed.

Hot or Drop
Definitely hot. It’s putdownable – and I meant it in the very positive sense of the word. While you will not feel compelled to stay up nights to read this book, you will want to come back to it after a long day like you would want to meet a dear old friend – for the warmth, the comfort and the nostalgia.

9 comments:

dipali said...

The beginning, with its details of daily life, like the dyeing of the dupattas,is what was so very evocative for me. I was living in Lucknow when I first read it, and I could try and imagine some of the places so many decades ago. What I really loved was the delicacy of the language and the authenticity of Laila's emotions. Another book, dealing with an entirely different community, yet evokes similarly the stress of changing times, is Rama Mehta's "Inside the Haveli".

the mad momma said...

okay. now your review makes me want to read it

Tharini said...

what a fantastic review!! You write so well. Will check this out when I come back!

rayshma said...

i love ur reviews! really!

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

Sounds like an interesting read! It's sad that the ending did not work out...that's usually one of the best parts in any book...

Will try and get to it someday :)

Suma said...

this review really makes me want to read it...addimng to my list :)

Mama - Mia said...

and my reading list keeps growing! next weekend i am book shopping! :)

lovely lovely review.

cheers!

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

Sounds like a good, cosy read. Sigh, sounds like another future read for me. Where will I get the time, I wonder?

Guess I'll have to stop reading everyones book reviews! ;)

Anonymous said...

Its a beautiful book. The flourish of her words are like the grandeur of the majestic monuments that the medieval craftsmen have created. Laila is not a mere actor bound to the pages of this book. She comes to life as we turn the pages of this book as though she is sitting besides us and narrating her juvenile yet profound experiences. Its a must read for everyone who loves literature not just for the plots or the protagonists but for the abstract imagery and the rush of emotions that a powerfully constructed piece such as this can evoke. Although I differ with the author of this blog (you have done a wonderful job, by the way) I believe that the ending is perfect in its awkward but soulful resignation.