book reviews, books about sarees, books set in 1900 india, books set in chennai, independant publishers, indian historical fiction, read harder, Read Women, siyahi books, the sari of surya vilas review, vayu naidu
AUTHOR : Vayu Naidu
PUBLISHER : Speaking Tiger
GENRE : Historical fFction
SOURCE : Purchased copy
RATING : 3/5 stars
The Sari Of Surya Vilas is a story that’s different from much I have read before. It follows a young girl, Allarmelu and her life in Surya Vilas while waiting for the return of her mother’s wedding sari. For those that don’t know, a sari (or saree) in India is like a heirloom, especially a silk sari . If you are a south Indian a wedding sari that’s passed on through generations is the same as a wedding ring would be to foreigners/Christians.
I already have been given a few of my mother’s sari and I have some of my grandmother’s sari as well. These are prized possessions to me and I know that if and when I have children (better be girls) I’ll be passing on these sari to then, along with a few additions of my own. So when I heard about a book where a sari sort of plays a character I was intrigued and immediately bought it.
The book is divided into two parts, one from 1909 and the other from 1857. The first part has Allarmelu, a child, growing up in Surya Vilas as a pampered but loveable daughter on one of the more important men in town. And the latter, as you can tell from the synopsis below, is about the origin of the Sari in question here.
Now, I have rather strongly divided thoughts on each book. I loved book one, Allarmelu was a character that’s hard to dislike and even though the perspectives are divided between two people, it’s hard to dislike the book even if you do dislike one of the characters. The author weaves the story in a clunky but interesting way that draws you in and makes reading it pretty relaxing despite the events.
The second part however, left me feeling a bit tired. It was slow and impersonal, written in a diary style that I didn’t expect. Having just left the colourful and rich landscape of Surya Vilas it was very hard for me to get into the rather bleak and dry landspace that’s portrayed in part two and that just took away from the experience for me.
Having said that, this is not a book you rush into. I read it rather quickly, in a couple of days. But that may just have been the wrong thing to do especially because of part two of the book. If I had read it slowly I probably wouldn’t have found my attention wandering. So if you’re picking this up an love slow stories, go for it. Else, take it a chapter at a time for part two and you’ll love it.
I noticed some things I didn’t understand historically, but then I am not Telugu and these things may be native to Telugu people even though the book isn’t set in Andhra. So I won’t comment on them. However if you’ve read this do let me know if it’s historically accurate in certain aspects. Now, I’m off to see if Hot Cross Buns are available in the Purasawalkam Whitefield Bakery and if my friend who lives there can send me some.
I’d recommend this for fans of historical fiction that does not involve royalty. And for those who love their saris to an unreasonable extent. I rated this 3 stars and will definitely flip through Vayu Naidu’s books if I spot them somewhere.
1909: Allarmelu is nine years old when her mother dies, leaving her in Surya Vilas, the family home, now a world of spinster aunts and men. When she discovers that her mother’s wedding sari, an heirloom passed from mother to daughter, is missing, Allarmelu must track it down—without revealing that it was stolen by a family member. Tracing the sari sends her into a world never mentioned in genteel company, of exotic Russian dancers and unacknowledged mistresses. But puberty and the changing urban landscape of Madras make Allarmelu challenge the complacent silences of family and British rule alike.
1857: Sari looms are set alight on the Coromandel Coast and weavers murdered. The East India Company ships an orphaned girl to England, to work as a governess. Born Chandrika, and converted to Christina, she carries a sari woven with the symbols of an incendiary past that she must strive to forget. However, she finds the words to narrate her experiences through working for the Philological Society, leaving a secret that will only be unravelled in the next century.