Author: Kashmira Sheth
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library
Challenges: YA (#14), Women Unbound (#6), South Asian Authors (#2), POC (#17)
Summary (from the back of the book): Pretty as a peacock, twelve-year-old Leela has been spoiled all her life. She doesn't care for school and barely notices the growing unrest between the British colonists and her own countrymen. Why should she? Her future has been planned since her engagement at two and marriage at nine. Leela's whole life changes, though, when her husband dies. She is considered unlucky now, and will have to stay confined to her house for a year--keep corner--in preparation for al life of mourning for a boy she barely knew.
When her school teacher hears of Leela's fate, she offers to give her lessons at home. For the first time, despite her confinement, Leela opens her eyes to the changing world around her. India is suffering from a severe drought, and farmers are unable to pay taxes to the British. She learns about a new leader of the people, a man named Gandhi, who has started a political movement and practices satyagraha--non-violent protest--against the colonists as well as the caste system. The quiet strength of satyagraha may liberate her country. Could Leela use the same path to liberate herself?
Review: If you choose to read this book, which I think you should, be sure to keep going past page 60 or so when her husband dies, because that is when this book really comes into its own. I don't mean it's good that her husband dies, I mean that the book hits its stride at that point. Early on Sheth introduces a lot of Indian vocabulary (and its English equivalent), which feels a bit stilted. But after page 60 we just get the Indian and it begins to flow.
I really enjoyed reading this book. One of the aspects that I liked was reinforcing what I know about Gandhi and satyagraha, and seeing how it affected local people, rather than just how it is portrayed in movies and history books. The caste system is also prevalent (the main character is brahman and can only eat food cooked by a brahman...who knew?)
I knew nothing about keeping corner before reading this book, nor how widows are treated in some Indian communities. Through her studies during her year of mourning Leela learns about the wider world around her, the plight of her country men, Gandhi, inequality (and how to overcome it), and, most importantly, herself.