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The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
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The Rice Mother (2002)

by Rani Manicka

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The Rice Mother is a multi-generational, multi-viewpoint story mainly set in Malaysia. The story begins in the 1930s, chronicles the Japanese occupation, and continues until the early 2000s. This book is full of beautiful descriptions of cultural traditions and customs, it really was an absolute delight to read. I found myself completely enchanted with Lakshmi's story and how her poor marriage affected her life and subsequently, her children's lives. There is a lot of heartache that befalls Lakshmi's family, friends and neighbours.

What I loved most about this book was the magical realism that was woven into the narrative. There is plenty of superstition and magic sprinkled throughout. Many plants and objects have mysterious power and meaning which gives a magical aura to the story. I became so attached to Lakshmi's family and I felt that each member had a very distinct voice. The narrators are each unreliable in their own ways as their points of view constantly differ and contradict each other, and I really enjoyed seeing how all the different viewpoints converged at the end.

The only disappointing aspect of this book was the way it ended. The beginning of the book was very strong but the ending was abrupt and strange, once the last character tells their side of a particular storyline the book ends. I found myself wanting so much more and would have gladly welcomed viewpoints from additional family members that were briefly mentioned. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book I can see myself re-reading it in future. ( )
  4everfanatical | Apr 14, 2016 |
The first half of novel is outstanding and moving; rich in color like a beautiful, deeply-hued tapestry with new images to see each time one looks at it. But the second half, after Lakshmi's wedding, the novel felt bleached out and forced, possibly reflecting the culture of marrying girls too young to understand how their lives would change. (The lies and manipulations to arrange many marriages - in any culture - are just plain evil.)

Lakshmi was smarter than many young wives, learning quickly how to manage her husband, babies, neighbors and vendors. She was strong in dealing with challenging situations especially the Japanese occupation, little money or food, and family illness. Because she was stubborn, and had too much control over her family, the mistakes she did make after the family's overwhelming loss caused irreversible pain to her children, scarring them, and leaving them ill-prepared for the future.

I enjoyed the sections Lakshmi narrated far more than the sections narrated by the others, except for Ayah. He was exceptionally kind, loving and considered his life blessed.

While mostly a good read, the characterizations of some of Lakshmi's children and the sections they narrated didn't feel real or alive to me. ( )
1 vote Bookish59 | Jul 29, 2015 |
This book is beautifully written. If you liked "In the Shadow of the Banyan", you will love "The Rice Mother." Manicka's descriptions are captivating. Example, describing Ratha's cooking - "In the kitchen Ratha set about turning the market produce into exotic meals. She was like an alchemist. She took some meat, spices, and vegetables and turned them into sumptuous meals that clouded your senses and drugged you into asking senselessly, "Is there any more?" Her genius was undeniable. She prepared jars of ginger marmalade and tomato chutney that followed you into tomorrow and next week. Unflinchingly, she beheaded adorable wood pigeons and unsuspecting wild fowl, marinading the dark meat in papaya skins to tenderize them. They melted in the mouth like butter." ...And you should read about the desserts...decadent!

Lakshmi is a young Ceylonese girl who is married to a Malayan man at the age of 14 and goes on to have six children by the age of 19. It starts in the 1930s. This is the story of the strengths of families and how families can destroy, of strong women and weak men. There are several narrators throughout the book but it is pretty easy to keep them straight.

The book goes through the Japanese occupation of Malaya and the atrocities inflicted upon the natives. The land was changed forever after their occupation.

The book was hard to put down after about the first half. There is little rejoicing but lots of heartache. Malaya came alive for me, as did the characters. ( )
  BettyTaylor56 | Jan 26, 2015 |
I rarely enjoy "chick lit" but this novel was extraordinarily captivating. Perhaps the style is more literary than mainstream and the characters are fascinating. Set in Malayasia. BTW- I was reading it while the Malaysian airplane disappeared! Synchronicity does happen. ( )
  authorknows | Mar 18, 2014 |
The saga of a Ceylonese family living in Malaysia from pre-WWII era to the present. The first section tells the story of Lakshmi, who arrives in her new country after being tricked into a bad marriage by a calculating matchmaker. Lakshmi eventually has six children whom she fiercely protects throughout the brutalities of the Japanese occupation, until one horrible day. This tragedy reverberates through the generations until years later, when Lakshmi's great-granddaughter compiles the stories of her broken family and finally brings them all together.

This was a very ambitious novel and for the most part the author was up to the task. The story is told by various narrating family members over the years. Although I appreciated that some of the narrators were male -- not common in this type of family saga -- in the end there were just too many different voices. The story would have been better told by only four or five principal characters. Also, Lakshmi's opening section was so vivid and powerful and her character so interesting that I really missed her when she was gone. She overshadowed the later generations, which was intentional by the author, but it was a bit of a letdown to switch from her to other, less engaging family members.

The writing was colorful and detailed about everyday life in Malaysia. There was also particular emphasis on rituals of family and community, as well as an undercurrent of superstition. I would definitely be interested in reading more by Rani Manicka. ( )
1 vote sophroniaborgia | Nov 8, 2013 |
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Para mis padres, mis dioses protectores desde el comienzo de mi días.
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It was on my uncle the mango trader's knees that I first heard of the amazing bird's-nest collectors, living in a faraway land called Malaya.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142004545, Paperback)

At the age of fourteen, Lakshmi leaves behind her childhood among the mango trees of Ceylon for married life across the ocean in Malaysia, and soon finds herself struggling to raise a family in a country that is, by turns, unyielding and amazing, brutal and beautiful. Giving birth to a child every year until she is nineteen, Lakshmi becomes a formidable matriarch, determined to secure a better life for her daughters and sons. From the Japanese occupation during World War II to the torture of watching some of her children succumb to life’s most terrible temptations, she rises to face every new challenge with almost mythic strength. Dreamy and lyrical, told in the alternating voices of the men and women of this amazing family, The Rice Mother gorgeously evokes a world where small pleasures offset unimaginable horrors, where ghosts and gods walk hand in hand. It marks the triumphant debut of a writer whose wisdom and soaring prose will touch readers, especially women, the world over.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:43 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Nothing in Lakshmi's childhood, running carefree and barefoot on the sun-baked earth amid the coconut and mango trees of Ceylon, could have prepared her for what life was to bring her. At fourteen, she finds herself traded in marriage to a stranger across the ocean in the fascinating land of Malaysia. Duped into thinking her new husband is wealthy, she instead finds herself struggling to raise a family with a man too impractical to face reality and a world that is, by turns, unyielding and amazing, brutal and beautiful. Giving birth to a child every year until she is nineteen, Lakshmi becomes a formidable matriarch, determined to wrest from the world a better life for her daughters and sons and to face every new challenge with almost mythic strength." "By sheer willpower Lakshmi survives the nightmare of World War II and the Japanese occupation - 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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