Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review: Climbing the Stairs (Venkatraman)

Title: Climbing the Stairs
Author: Padma Venkatraman
Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 247
Rating: 4 out of 5
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library
Challenges: POC, Women Unbound, South Asian Author
Summary (from the inside flap): Fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of going to college, an unusual proposition for a girl living in British-occupied India during World War II. When tragedy strikes, Vidya and her brother, Kitta, are forced to move into a traditional household with their grandfather and their extended family, where men live separately upstairs and the women who live below are meant to be married, not educated. Breaking the rules, Vidya finds refuge in her grandfather's second-floor library. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house. Surprisingly, he treats her like an equal and encourages her intellectual curiosity. But soon it's clear Raman wants more than just friendship, and when Kitta makes a shocking choice the family cannot condone, Vidya's life becomes a whirlwind of personal and political complications. Will she be strong enough to survive the storm?

Review: I have put off reading this book for months. I kept not being in the right frame of mind for it, knowing it would deal with some serious issues (World War II, imperialism, ahimsa, the role of women, etc). And, in the back of my mind was Aths from Reading on a Rainy Day saying she was waiting to see what I thought of it. Whew! I was finally in the right place for this book and so I enjoyed it. Didn't love it, but liked it a lot.

As a former history teacher and lover of things Indian (I think this comes from a fantastic extended visit there when I was 12 years old...a LONG time ago) I really liked the setting, culture, and time period of this book. Having Gandhi, imperialism, issues with British rule, and World War II as a back drop was really great. I also liked the Hinduism references; boy do they have a lot of festivals to celebrate!

I also liked the issues of men's and women's lives in India: women serving men before eating what's left over; education for boys first but marriage for the girls; the dichotomy between Vidya's life in Bombay with a "modern" family versus that with her extended family in Madras who was more traditional.

I am not sure exactly what made this a 4 and not a 5. I liked it, but didn't love it. Perhaps I wanted more drama, more description of the tragedy that happened (no spoilers here), or more...something. But, I definitely recommend it.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

7 comments:

Suzanne said...

This sounds like an intereesting novel. I enjoy reading about India and I hope that I am brave enough one day to visit.
Thanks for the review.

Diane said...

This one is in my TBR stack, but I have read several great reviews including yours; thanks Helen

Helen's Book Blog said...

Suzanne--India is a wonderful place to visit; it's so vast and different in it's different regions. The people are friendly, the food is fabulous, and the sites are amazing!

Diane--Keep it in your TBR stack! It's worth it

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Thanks for the review - this is one I have been meaning to read for a long time.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Sheila--I think a lot of people have this on their TBR list. It was good and worth reading though I have seen some more negative reviews out there, I thought it was interesting

Aths said...

Oooohh ... you finally read this!! I am so glad (No, the 4 doesn't upset me.;-) )

I should say that when I started this book I wasn't that much into it. (I am usually scared to read books featuring Indian characters, because sometimes they are too unreal, and sometimes too clich├ęd.) But after 50 pages, I absolutely loved it, probably because although I haven't had even an ounce of Vidya's experiences, I still go through 21st century versions of them - such as arranged marriages (my parents are freaked that I am still not married at 26 .. sigh .. and want to groom-hunt .. shudder .. Bless them!) Girls are still second-class citizens .. people can toss me into the garbage all they want, but they are not going to make me bow to them or beg or get up from my seat to give the esteemed male a seat. Things are so much better now, and as you saw in the book, the north is far more advanced than the south (I'm from the south.) I'm glad you read this, and though didn't love it, liked it enough. :)

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aths--I knew you would appreciate that I finally read this and liked it. Fending off arranged marriages does NOT sound like fun :-) Good on you for standing up for yourself!