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Set on the outskirts of Ipoh in Malaysia, Samarasan's impressive debut chronicles another bad year in the Big House on Kingfisher Lane. With the death of Paati, the grandmother, and the disgraceful departure of Chellam, the family's servant girl, the wealthy Rajasekharan family is in shambles. Skillfully jumping from one consciousness to another, Samarasan moves back in time to reveal the secrets that have led to the family's unraveling. Father Raju's dreams have been stifled by his unrealized political ambitions, and his home life is no consolation. Vasanthi, his wife, bristles at reminders of her lower-class roots and wouldn't mind seeing Uma, their oldest daughter, "destroyed by an endless string of disappointments." Uma all but disconnects herself from the family in anticipation of escaping to Columbia University, and her six-year-old sister, Aasha, whose desire to recapture Uma's love is a primary focus of the book, must settle for interactions with a ghost only she can see. There's little familial tenderness, and the few instances of compassion displayed (by Raju's visiting brother) are mistaken as perverse. Though the narrative is occasionally unwieldy or claustrophobic, the language bursts with energy, and Samarasan has a sure hand juggling so many distinct characters. (May)
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