Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: Someone Else's Garden by Dipika Rai

So many books focus on the disaffected and apathetic middle and upper classes of society. We watch tv shows that expose the uber-wealthy. We devour gossip about celebrities and those lucky enough to be born rich. It's almost as if the poor, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden have no voice we care to hear. And perhaps this lack of awareness is even more prevalent in a society like India where there's a formalized caste system ensuring that people find and maintain only their own level and poor women are lucky to be granted even that.

Opening with Lata Bai giving birth to her seventh child, another girl, this tale of the disenfranchised, rights-less women of small, backward, poor village India celebrates the strength and the love that gives these abused, maligned, and expendable women the courage to go on and to grasp for a better life. As her mother adds yet another female mouth to the family, Mamta, the eldest daughter, is dreaming and preparing for her very late but finally occurring marriage. She harbors romantic fantasies that even the example of her own life, being abused and neglected by her father because she was simply being raised to belong to another man, hasn't crushed. But the reality of her marriage, with her husband even selling her kidney and plotting to sell the other one as well, presses in on her and she must escape or die, despite knowing that all around her will condemn her for her choice regardless of the chilling alternative if she stayed and endured.

As Mamta finds her way in a harsh and unforgiving world, there is a second narrative running parallel to her story, one that will ultimately join her tale. This second plot line is that of Lokend, the younger son of the zamindar of Mamta's birth village. Lokend is a gentle soul, one who echoes the very best and kindest of the Hindu gods. He works for peace for the villagers but as is the case with so many of the selfless, he makes enemies who are determined to break him.

Someone Else's Garden is rife with brutality. Sadly it is not unrealistic brutality, nor is it gratuitous, included here not only to make the story realistic but also to shed light on the terrible fate of so many who cannot defend or speak for themselves. A large portion of the story contains unrelenting horrors and so the late glimmer of hope and progress unfortunately becomes unbelievable, a sort of fairytale ending to an otherwise un-fairytale-like story. There are a multitude of characters and it it hard, at the start, to keep them distinct in the reader's mind. Eventually it gets easier to sort them all out. Mamta's determination and the vestiges of hope that she manages to retain throughout her ordeals make her a very appealing character, one with whom the reader is sure to side. Her own calm acceptance of the customs and beliefs of her mother help the reader not to condemn these backwards thinking people but to understand the force of years of oppression and the centuries of tradition that have led to this mindset.

The double plot line and its ensuing complexity makes the novel move slowly for about the first half of the book. As necessary as the backstory is, there's just a bit too much detail bogging it down and making the reader work to get into a rhythm. The continual grim occurrences are hard to stomach but they serve their purpose. The sheer number of minor characters woven through the beginning also add to the challenge. But once you hit the middle of the book, the logjam breaks free and things flow more smoothly as the story picks up momentum. Those who have an interest in women's rights or rural India will be well served if they persevere with this one.

For more information about Dipika Rai and the book, be sure to visit her website or her Facebook page.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Hmmmmm....I do like what I've read about this book so far, but it seems like one of those books that will get mixed review. Hope to pick up a copy at some point.

    Thanks for the honest review.

  2. I'm reading this one for this tour later in the month, and I'm really looking forward to it. It sounds interesting, but I'm glad to know it starts a little more slowly. Thanks!

  3. I'm glad to know that despite the difficult start, the book really does get going in the middle and that it turns out to be a worthwhile read.

    Stories like this both depress and motivate me at the same time, making me sad but making me want to help in some way. I'm was excited to learn recently that portions of the book sales go to an NGO in India - that is a great thing for the author to do.

    Thanks for being on this tour!


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