28 July, 2021

Malayan Days

Displays a first-time novelist's classic tendency to mistake accumulation of detail with narrative richness

Malayan Days
Domestic drama. Three generations. The last days of British rule. The post-colonial present. Middle class aspirations. Working-class oppression: it’s all here in Preeta Samarasan’s first novel. Familiar territory indeed; except that the setting is not India, but "a springless summerless autumnless winterless land" called Malaysia.

The story opens with the ignominious departure of Chellam, an eighteen-year-old servant who had arrived a year earlier to work at the Big House at Ipoh.

The narrative swings back and forth from 1899 when Appa’s grandfather sets sail from Tamil Nadu to seek work in Malaysia; to 1959 when he buys the Big House from a dyspeptic mine-owning Scotsman; to the present day, as six-year-old Aasha, eleven-year-old Suresh, and their ill-matched parents Amma and Appa, oversee the departure of Chellam.

Samarasan displays a first-time novelist’s classic tendency to mistake accumulation of detail with narrative richness, resulting in the telling details—the ones that you can delight in, that give these...

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