“The Rice Mother” by Rani Manicka is a Malaysian family saga depicting life in Malaysia through the eyes of 4 generations, spanning a period of 85 years. At fourteen, Lakshmi, the central character of the book, as well as the one the title refers to,leaves behind her care-free childhood spent amongst mango trees in Ceylon in order to marry a mature man in Malaysia. This naive young girl is forced to face all the harships life has in store for her from this moment onwards.
Tricked into believing that her new husband is rich she soon finds herself struggling to make ends meet and support a family with a man too impractical and weak to face reality and a world that is both inflexible and magical, brutal and beautiful.
“Giving birth to a child every year until she is 19, Lakshmi becomes a formidable matriarch” (Goodreads), determined to shape a different and better world for her children. When the World War II and the Japanese occupation come, Lakshmi survives, with only one goal – keeping her family safe – but not unscathed. “The family bears deep scars on its back and in turn inflicts those wounds on the next generation. But it is not until Lakshmi’s great-granddaughter, Nisha, pieces together the mosaic of her family history that the legacy of the Rice Mother bears fruit”. (Goodreads)
All the characters are beautifully built, round and complex and I loved the fact that none of them are perfect, on the contrary, they are very much flawed, which ultimately makes them feel so more real!
Written from the perspective of several characters, this novel is the chronicle of a family completely unfamiliar to me, where exotism and myth intertwine offering us a pleasant and challenging read. Myths, superstitions, social details and feelings (love, betrayal, anger, sorrow, loss, hope, denial, happiness, longing, despair, deceit, infidelity, honesty, pain etc.) : “The Rice Mother” is one of those compulsive and compelling novels that makes one not let go of it anymore once he or she started reading.
In the beginning of the book the narration starts with Lakshmi. She is the one who actually starts the story. Therefore, as a reader, one identifies himself/herself with her, her experiences, her life, “lives and feels” her story. You get to like her and understand her and in turn you get to maybe despise or hate other characters on the basis of what Lakshmi narrates. But then further in the book you get to read the same story told by other memebers of the family who do not share the same perspective of the event in question. And what a surprise…you suddenly understand them too, you no longer look at them as you initially did, you get to emphatize with each and every character to a smaller or bigger degree because the same event, narrated from different points of view, makes sense, and you realize that the characters are all both good and bad, flawed, imperfect…ultimately perfect human beings!
I would like to quote here the comment posted by one of the readers named Angela on Goodreads, on May 21st 2007, simply because I feel the same way: “When I don’t have enough money to buy a ticket to a far away place, or when the times I wish to visit have already passed a long time ago, I open a book and read. (…) A beautiful story about love and war, mango trees and spiced rice.”
When I read I travel and if I am to choose where to travel then I prefer travelling as far away from home as possible, to new worlds,mysterious, exotic and unknown to me. 🙂 It was worth reading this book as I caught a glimpse of Malaysia and I recommend it from all my heart as it already made it to the top of my all time favourite books!
As usually, in the end of my review, I will post some quotes for you, in order to maybe encourage you to buy, borrow, lend, read this book:
“Flowers grow beneath her feet, but she is not dead at all. The years havenot diminished the Rice Mother. I see her, fierce and magical. Stop despairing and call to her, and you will see, she will come bearing a rainbow of dreams.”
“I was born in Ceylon in 1916 at a time when spirits walked the earth just like people, before the glare of electricity and the roar of civilization had frightened them away into the concealed hearts of the forests.”
“Life had yet to teach me that a child’s love can never equal a mother’s pain.”
“I have been driven by the blind compulsion to walk barefoot down the difficult path.”
“She had betrayed him. He who loved her dearly. She felt defeated by her own impatience, her own incredibly clever mind. Her head had ruined her heart.”
“I have been weak and pathetic because I forgot that love comes and goes like the dye that colours a garment. I mistook love for the garment. Family is the garment. Let her wear her family with pride.”
“They didn’t finish each other’s sentences, rather it was the pauses they shared.”
“My uncle said, my heart is my bamboo, and if I treat it kindly and listen for its song, the highest, biggest nest will surely be mine.”
For more reviews, comments, discussions, information, check the following links:
- The Rice Mother – Book Clubs – Penguin Books USA;
- Interview with Rani Manicka – blog;
- Interview with Rani Manicka by lauriethoughts-review.blogspot.ro;
- Interview with Rani Manicka by Rediff India Abroad