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Evening Is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
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Evening Is the Whole Day (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Preeta Samarasan

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2671142,587 (3.91)57
Member:twopairsofglasses
Title:Evening Is the Whole Day
Authors:Preeta Samarasan
Info:Mariner Books (2009), Edition: 1, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:contemporary/ literary
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (2008)

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    Green is the Colour by Lloyd Fernando (bibliobibuli)
    bibliobibuli: This is the only other Malaysian novel which examines the fallout of the May 13th racial riots - the great untalked about in Malaysia and the great unwritten about in its fiction.
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Rich, inventive, original, and beautiful. ( )
  twopairsofglasses | Feb 23, 2013 |
In 1980 in Ipoh, Malaysia, a few jarring events sweep over 6-year old Aasha: the dismissal of an 18 year-old servant in shame and disgrace, the departure of the oldest sister to university in America, and the recent, troubling death of Aasha’s grandmother Paati. The ensuing story is a portrait of a family whose dysfunction and secrets insidiously consume all of its members, with a narrative that slowly moves backwards to reveal past wounds in layers like geologic events told in rock strata. I found this book to be unrelentingly sad, particularly as it chronicles the experience and interpretations of the family’s children and a very vulnerable servant. Aasha, whose companions are the household’s ghosts, is watchful and vigilant, trailing her silent and closed older sister Uma like a shadow in the desperate hope that she might catch a glimpse of the old Uma, the one who played with her and doted on her, before she loses her to America forever. Uma’s exclusion of her sister and emotional distance from the family is selfish and unforgivable, until the reader reaches the Uma layer and gains insight into her cold self-defense. Other characters are likewise excavated and explored: mother Amma’s bitterness and cruelty, grandmother Paati’s manipulation and willful decline, Chellamservant’s wretchedness, and jovial but perpetually down-on-his-luck Uncle Ballroom. Perhaps most complex of all is father Appa -- we trace his path as he navigates the toxic family dynamic, his children’s adoration-turned-guardedness, and his politically idealist hopes and dreams for the nascent nation of Malaysia, a diverse patchwork of Malays, Indians, and Chinese struggling with identity, belonging, and racial and class issues following independence from the British Empire. These interweaving elements are told with wildly playful and humorous language, breathtaking, visceral descriptions of Malaysia, and a distinct Indian-Malay music and rhythm.

The book is too depressing for an unqualified recommendation, but I do admire Ms. Samarasan’s storytelling skill. The family story is too complicated and intricate to assign blame. The Malaysian history is fascinating, and intimately, subtly told, and the language is simply captivating, right from the first page:

“There is, stretching delicate as a bird’s head from the thin neck of Kra Isthmus, a land that makes up half of the country called Malaysia. Where it dips its beak in the South China Sea, Singapore hovers like a bubble escaped from its throat. This bird’s head is a springless summerless autumnless winterless land. One day might be a drop wetter or a mite drier than the last, but almost all are hot, damp, bright, bursting with lazy tropical life, conducive to endless tea breaks and mad, jostling, honking rushes through town to get home before the afternoon downpour. These are the most familiar rains, the violent silver ropes that flood the playing fields and force office workers to wade to bus stops in shoes that fill like buckets. Blustering and melodramatic, the afternoon rains cause traffic jams at once terrible -- choked with the black smoke of lorries and the screeching brakes of schoolbuses -- and beautiful: aglow with winding lanes of watery yellow headlights that go on forever, with blue streetlamps reflected in burgeoning puddles, with the fluorescent melancholy of empty roadside stalls. Every day appears to begin with a blaze and end with this deluge, so that past and present and future run together in an infinite, steaming river.

In truth, though, there are days that do not blaze and rains less fierce. Under a certain kind of mild morning drizzle the very earth breathes slow and deep. Mist rises from the dark treetops on the limestone hills outside Ipoh town. Grey mist, glowing green hills: on such mornings it is obvious how sharply parts of this land must have reminded the old British rulers of their faraway country.”
3 vote AMQS | Apr 3, 2012 |
This is literary fiction and it shows. The book is floating on themes and flowery descriptions without a whole lot happening. The story, insofar as you can call it that, is that Chellam, the servant of the main family in the book gets thrown out because she supposedly did something really bad. Then, through flashbacks it is told how she was hired and life in the family went until the bad thing (which it turns out she didn't even do) happens. Mixed with that are flashbacks to the 1950s and 60s that give background to the father and mother of the family. How they became the people they are. The other flashbacks serve the same purpose but then for the two daughters of the family.

All in all I liked the setting (Malaysia) since I'd never read a book before that took place there. The continuous descriptions of everything started to get on my nerves though. The book really gets bogged down by it, nothing moves, it becomes this sluggish thing in which nothing really happens. This is part of the overall theme (nothing really changes) but I like a bit more action in my plots. In the end, I wouldn't really recommend this book to anyone unless they are definite literary fiction readers and/or have an interest in Malaysia (she does very nicely show us crucial, and interesting, parts of Malaysian history and culture)
  TseMoana | Jun 25, 2010 |
Evening Is The Whole Day starts with the ignominious departure of a disgraced maidservant from the Big House, a blue-painted mansion on a quiet street in Ipoh, Malaysia. Her mistress is sitting at the kitchen table, spitting out angry and embittered words towards the two youngest children of the house, who are sitting as quietly as they can in the hope that no-one will notice them. The eldest daughter left the previous week, to study in the US. The father of the house is at his office.

The story then works its way backwards, unpeeling the onion-like layers of secrets, misunderstandings, suspicions, betrayals and petty inhumanities which have created this broken, unhappy family.

Although the events are increasingly harrowing, the lushness and beauty of the language stop this from being a depressing book.

Salman Rushdie's influence is clear, in the book's punning, multi-linguistic exuberance, the pungent smells and spiciness in the air, and the fact that many family milestones take place at the same time as significant events in the development of the country. But this is more a family saga than a Malaysian Midnight's Children, although along with the hints of family difficulties there are rumbling undercurrents of the country's racial tensions. (I am not sure if the resentments and suspicions, passed down the generations, are meant to be a metaphor for communal relations in Malaysia. It's possible, but this is not overplayed.)

This was a phenomenal read - fantastic writing, a vivid sense of place, and a powerful story. ( )
4 vote wandering_star | Feb 6, 2010 |
A different culture--Malaysia--but the family that's in trouble could be anywhere. The author reveals character slowly and the story evolves unusually as the author returns to an earlier time with each chapter. I found the book engrossing from the first sentence. The author shows exceptional creativity in her writing. ( )
1 vote Rosareads | Dec 14, 2009 |
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History begins only at the point where things go wrong; history is born only with trouble, with perplexity, with regret.
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September 6, 1980: There is, stretching delicate as a bird's head from the thin neck of the Kra Isthmus, a land that makes up half of the country called Malaysia.
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Book description
Wanneer het dienstmeisje van de welgestelde familieRajasekharan om onduidelijke redenen wordt ontslagen,is dat de laatste in een reeks gebeurtenissen diehet leven van de zesjarige Aasha op zijn kop hebbengezet. Binnen enkele weken is haar grootmoeder opmysterieuze wijze om het leven gekomen en is haaraanbeden oudste zus voorgoed naar Amerikavertrokken. Aasha blijft eenzaam achter, gestrand ineen familie die langzaam uit elkaar valt.Tegen de achtergrond van het zinderende Maleisiëvan de jaren zestig gaat het verhaal terug in de tijd,om stapje voor stapje de duistere, complexe geheimenen leugens van een immigrantenfamilie te onthullen.Het blauwe huis is een krachtige, indrukwekkenderoman. Het wonderschone taalgebruik en de superieureopbouw zullen de lezer gevangen houden tot de laatstepagina.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 061887447X, Hardcover)

Set in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces us to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.

When Chellam, the family’s rubber-plantation-bred servant girl, is dismissed for unnamed crimes, her banishment is the latest in a series of recent, precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha’s life. A few short weeks before, Aasha’s grandmother Paati passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister, Uma, departed for Columbia University--leaving Aasha alone to cope with her mostly absent father, her bitter mother, and her imperturbable older brother.

Beginning with Aasha’s grandfather’s ascension from Indian coolie to illustrious resident of the Big House on Kingfisher Lane, and going on to tell the story of how Appa, the family’s Oxford-educated patriarch, courted Amma, the humble girl next door, Evening Is the Whole Day moves gracefully backward and forward in time to answer the many questions that haunt the family: What was Chellam’s unforgivable crime? Why was Uma so intent on leaving? How and why did Paati die? What did Aasha see? And, underscoring all of these mysteries: What ultimately became of Appa’s once-grand dreams for his family and his country?
Sweeping in scope, sumptuously lyrical, and masterfully constructed, Evening Is the Whole Day offers an unflinching look at relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, the wealthy and the poor, a country and its citizens--and the ways in which each sometimes fails the other. Illuminating in heartbreaking detail one Indian immigrant family’s secrets and lies while exposing the complex underbelly of Malaysia itself, Preeta Samarasan’s debut is a mesmerizing and vital achievement sure to earn her a place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Zadie Smith.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:02 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When Chellam, the family's rubber-plantation-bred servant girl, is dismissed for unnamed crimes, her banishment is the latest in a series of recent, precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha's life. A few short weeks before, Aasha's grandmother Paati passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister, Uma, departed for Columbia University--leaving Aasha alone to cope with her mostly absent father, her bitter mother, and her imperturbable older brother. Set in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces readers to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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