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Evening Is the Whole Day [Paperback]

Preeta Samarasan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Paperback, May 28 2009 --  
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5.0 out of 5 stars `Even noon is evening to she who waits..' July 21 2008
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is a hauntingly beautiful novel. Simultaneously filled with hope and despair, Ms Samarasan gives us characters who are never just stereotypes (although sometimes the accurate depiction of certain characteristics comes dangerously close to a stereotypical presentation). No, what Ms Samarasan has delivered is a novel peopled with individuals who are generally disappointed in the past and present and occasionally hopeful for the future.

The story finishes in Malaysia in 1980, but circles through the family history, aspirations, hopes disappointments and secrets of the Rajasekharan family since Appa's grandfather emigrated across the Bay of Bengal in 1899. We view the present through the eyes of Aasha, the youngest of the three Rajasekharan children. Aasha is secretive and far from impartial: she doesn't want her older sister Uma to leave Malaysia for the USA and is reacting to tensions and other secrets within the family that, at 6 years of age, she can observe without necessarily understanding. By contrast with the relative life of privilege of the Rajasekharan family, is the sad tale of Chellam: the exploited, underprivileged and wronged servant girl who is the same age as Uma.

This novel is primarily about family: secrets, relationships and aspirations. But it is also about life in Malaysia over a century which encompassed independence, race riots and significant migration. Each of the Rajasekharans struggles to find his or her own happiness in a world which is changing rapidly. My favourite character was the 8 year old son, Suresh. He brought a perspective to the story and a hope, perhaps for a collective future that was less apparent from the views of the other characters.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Even noon is evening to she who waits..' July 18 2008
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a hauntingly beautiful novel. Simultaneously filled with hope and despair, Ms Samarasan gives us characters who are never just stereotypes (although sometimes the accurate depiction of certain characteristics comes dangerously close to a stereotypical presentation). No, what Ms Samarasan has delivered is a novel peopled with individuals who are generally disappointed in the past and present and occasionally hopeful for the future.

The story finishes in Malaysia in 1980, but circles through the family history, aspirations, hopes disappointments and secrets of the Rajasekharan family since Appa's grandfather emigrated across the Bay of Bengal in 1899. We view the present through the eyes of Aasha, the youngest of the three Rajasekharan children. Aasha is secretive and far from impartial: she doesn't want her older sister Uma to leave Malaysia for the USA and is reacting to tensions and other secrets within the family that, at 6 years of age, she can observe without necessarily understanding. By contrast with the relative life of privilege of the Rajasekharan family, is the sad tale of Chellam: the exploited, underprivileged and wronged servant girl who is the same age as Uma.

This novel is primarily about family: secrets, relationships and aspirations. But it is also about life in Malaysia over a century which encompassed independence, race riots and significant migration. Each of the Rajasekharans struggles to find his or her own happiness in a world which is changing rapidly. My favourite character was the 8 year old son, Suresh. He brought a perspective to the story and a hope, perhaps for a collective future that was less apparent from the views of the other characters.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST DEBUT NOVEL EVER!!!! I'M NOT KIDDING!!!!! June 4 2008
By Lowell Brower - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm going to go ahead and call this my favorite novel of the decade. I've never, ever, EVER, believed in characters as deeply as I believe in the inhabitants of The Big House. You know what - forget the decade! This is as good a novel as I know of, and as intimate and moving a reading experience as I've had, and as rich and vivid a world as I've ever read my way into. I don't know if I've ever loved a character as much as I love Aasha. Love though, is not all I feel for this book - and this, I think, is what makes it so seriously, truly, utterly great: it's also unrelentingly painful. It will hurt you. It hurts, even when guided by a loving hand, to look so honestly at the brutality and smallness and meanness of which humanity is capable. It hurts to follow the trails of ruin left by willful blindnesses, shameful prejudices, and faithless underestimations; it hurts to watch small mistakes, no matter how innocently or ignorantly perpetrated, result in huge, enveloping, unrescindable sadnesses - but to be able to look at all of this squarely, attentively, and unsparingly; to depict it fully, in all its ugly complexity; to dwell on the pain, to pick and prod and examine it, to stare into its hideous face with humor and healthy cynicism, but also, somehow, hope - is, I think, the bravest sort of thing a piece of writing can do. I smiled on nearly every page, but never did the novel allow me to indulge the dangerous fantasies of a happy ending - not for everyone, not in a world like ours.

oh yeah - and did I mention that it's got absolutely everything else that anyone could possibly want in a novel - mystery, political strife, domestic intrigue, hilarity, a thrilling loop-the-looping structure, and 339 pages of pure, unadulterated dazzling prose.

In sum:
I friend this book, know or not?
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worth staying up all night to finish June 4 2008
By amiriams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this gorgeous debut (by turns heartbreaking and deeply funny), Samarasan tells the story of both one ethnic Indian family and the whole country of Malaysia, reminding us that History is the individual people it happens to. This is a tale of layered mysteries and secrets, of misunderstandings and the assignations of blame -- among family members in a divided house, and between Malay, Indian, and Chinese citizens in a country where race determines a person's legal rights and social identity.

It's 1980 in Ipoh town, and the prosperous Rajasekharan family (Appa, Amma, and children Uma, Suresh, and Aasha) is forever changed when grandmother Paati cracks her skull in the bath and dies. Was she pushed, and if so, who did it? What did six-year-old Aasha see? As in Ian McEwan's _Atonement_, a child makes a terrible, irreversible mistake in the name of love. The effect is exhilarating: we love and sympathize with lonely imaginative little Aasha, even as we recoil from what she sets into motion. Chellam, the family's eighteen-year-old servant girl, is blamed and dismissed the same week that Uma, their oldest daughter, leaves for college in America. Meanwhile, Appa (the father) is prosecuting -- in a highly publicized, racially charged trial -- a Malay defendant who might have been scapegoated for the rape and murder of a Chinese girl.

The novel's narrator is big, lush, and Rushdie-esque, panning in and out. Samarasan gives us access to a cast of characters across three generations, moving around in time to show us how Amma and Appa's emotional landscapes were formed, and how colonization, independence, and race riots helped shape Malaysia's future. The central narrative moves backwards in time, ending the book on a high note. In less deft authorial hands, this might make the reading experience *more* painful because we know what will come to pass; but here, Samarasan reminds us of the strong, cyclical nature of hope in both society and family.

Hope hums beneath the surface of this novel, like the somber beauty of the Simon and Garfunkel tapes Uma plays and Aasha listens to outside her door: "Who will love a little sparrow?" Longing is an acute form of hope, and it undercuts these characters' pain and isolation with moments of discovery and connection. Hope may sometimes lead to disappointment, but it also puts _The Wind in the Willows_ in Aasha's hands and Uma on a stage. It offers Paati the sigh-worthy pleasures of warm water and surprises Uma's face with a smile -- one too real for photographs -- as she boards the plane.

I highly recommend this novel; it's a great book club pick - much to discuss, relate to, and learn from.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tolstoy in Malaysia July 6 2008
By the autumn leaves - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Trying to think what the novel is about, in my mind I skip right over "about a family" to "Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. " But it is also about a country. The novel is centered on a rich Malaysian Indian family, put in the context of several generations but really focusing on two. The main protagonist is.... well, I'll let you decide for yourself. There is a 6-yr old Asha, who is virtually abandoned by everyone, wandering the Big House and talking to some really awesome ghosts; then her older sister Uma, who can't wait to leave for America and her Ivy League school, and who mostly subsists inside her own head, for reasons unknown. They have a somewhat less consequential brother, Suresh, but one of the main catalysts of all sorts is a rubber-plantation girl, Chelam, who is a servant helping their old and infirm grandmother. There is the bitter mother, Amma, and the brilliant lawyer father, Appa. The plot goes back and forth in time, and mostly just back, to explain certain mysteries and relationships.

What I absolutely loved most of all was the writing. I feel that the author must choose her words ultra-carefully. Everything feels in its right place and it sounds right because the right word was chosen (and no other could be). The first thing I can think of when describing this writing is delicious. It was really delicious to plow through the weaves of the language in combination with all the carefully planted details. It's always the little things that matter and that ultimately make up a character. The author's really filled them all in, preparing the ground in such way that the final narrative outcome is a very natural conclusion.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Novel!! June 8 2008
By adsilvee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First of all I just have to say...Wow, this is not your typical debut novel!!! This author is already right up there with the great writers of today. The prose is assured and beautiful, the world is detailed and vivid, and the characters just jump off the page. I completely agree with previous posts in that this is surely one of the most exciting first novels to come along in recent memory.

This is the story of the privileged Rajasekharan family and the events which conspire to topple them from their pedestal of social superiority. The first chapter opens with the girl-servant, Chellam, being banished from the house for allegedly pushing Paati (the grandmother) and causing her immediate death. Paati's demise is unfortunate indeed...but the situation turns out to be even far more complicated than it first appears.

From here the novel reveals, layer by layer, the dark secrets lurking beneath the family's polished facade of garden parties, chocolate wafers, and beautiful, genius children. The narrative moves deftly through past and present, in and out of characters' minds, and extends even to the political upheavals taking place in the country. The very true-to-life dramas are accentuated by vivid flights of pure imagination: ghosts that speak to children, personifications of "Fact" and "Rumor" that dance through the streets of Malaysia, and smiles that can be peeled from glass and slipped into a pocket. And then comes the ending...I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that I couldn't put the book down!

In some ways EVENING IS THE WHOLE DAY is a classic story--that of a family struggling against the effects of their own prideful ambitions. And yet in Samarasan's hands, everything feels new. Truly, this is the kind of epic family saga that you won't forget about any time soon...Highly Recommended!!!
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