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This was quite an interesting departure from my normal reading. This is literary fiction by an author who is apparently very well known in India, but practically unknown in the West. If marketed here, it would probably be called "women's fiction," because Small Remedies is a very introspective first-person narrative by a woman who has lost her son, and as she traces the histories of two other influential women in her life, while also unveiling all her other formative experiences, she ties a multitude of narrative threads together as a way of putting a coda to her grief and loss. It's the sort of story that, let's be honest, will appeal to women more than men, not just because it's mostly about women, but because it's all about feelings and interpersonal relationships and all that. There is not really a lot of plot here; rather, there are a bunch of different characters, all of whom have some relationship to one another, some very significant, some only tertiary, and the book is about the unveiling of each one's story and how it relates to the central theme, of dealing with memories, and loss, and the things people give up.
One of the things that made this book more interesting to me was of course the fact that it's 100% Indian fiction — although written in English, it's by, for, and about Indians. Shashi Deshpande offers no concessions to the non-Indian reader, she simply assumes that you are familiar with all the cultural references she describes, just as an American author will talk about AP classes and private health insurance and Top 40 radio and football and deer-hunting under the assumption that an (American) audience knows exactly what all those things are and how they work.Read more ›
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A great book is waiting inside "Small Remedies". Unfortunately, author Shashi Deshpande casts her literary net a little too wide and comes up with a strong but not quite great reading experience. The action is narrated by a woman named Madhu, a mother dealing with the tragic death of her adolescent son and the resulting estrangement from her husband. Tasked with the job of writing the biography of an Indian musician famous for her voice and female independence, Madhu moves to a foreign city where she is forced to confront her past and her emotions, two areas of her life causing pain. At the center of the story, providing direction and color to Madhu's own life, are two powerful women, the aforementioned musician plus Madhu's aunt, a fiercely independent woman who lived a life of revolution and action. Their different yet similarly empowered lives, along side Madhu's own struggles with motherhood and what it means to be a mother without a child, drive the emotional core of the novel. Unfortunately, a lot more is going on in the three hundred page book which ultimately dilutes the feminist thread that runs throughout. Too many characters, past history that makes waves initially but does not carry through the rest of the book, a marital relationship that is not fully fleshed out or resolved- these minor issues slow down the impetus of what could be a powerful book. The scenes in which Madhu deals with her son's death are gripping and quite disturbing, yet they seem like an after thought in the larger scope of the book. "Small Remedies" is a very good book that feels like it should be a great book. It is worth reading, but one does get the sense that it could be written better.
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