Cross-posted at Bookreviews at Bookrack
The House of Blue Mangoes is a story spanning three generations of a non-Brahmin Christian family in Tamilnadu. It follows the story of the family while mirroring the developments in society at that time. India’s own freedom struggle from the British, is happening at the same time.
Solomon Dorai is the head of a village Chethavar in what used to be Madras Constituency in Pre-independence India. He was very particular about maintaining peace between the various powerful castes. He prided himself with the fact that Chethavar had not seen the nasty caste-based clashes which were so common around them. The peace which had been maintained for long is threatened and broken in a caste based clash, which results in Solomon’s death and Solomon’s elder, studious son Daniel, his wife Charity and daughter moving to Charity’s hometown. Solomon’s younger son Aaron stays on in Chethavar. Solomon had always been a little disappointed with his elder son who was more interested in his books and learning that the so-called manly interests like fighting and sports. Aaron on the other hand had always been sporty and also looked down on his gentle elder brother.
Aaron feels detached from his family and goes on to get involved in the Freedom struggle. Daniel goes to become a doctor and even markets a fairness potion that becomes very popular. Slowly, Daniel is pulled back to his birth village. He realizes that his destiny is entwined with his village. He goes on to build a house surrounded by the famous blue mango trees that are a specialty of Chethavar and builds up a community, which he heads. The local legend has it that the blue mangoes are the best in the world. His life and times and his son Kannan’s life with the new opportunities and new temptations take on a different aspect. The values that Daniel cherishes are not exactly high priority for Kannan.
The story that spans three generations, Solomon, Daniel and Kannan, is captivating and has a charm of its own. The backdrop of India’s freedom struggle and the equation between the last Britishers who are on their way out is fascinating. The prejudices and the distrust that seem to exist on both sides of the divide is very beautifully brought out. Alongside this, Davidar does a beautiful job of chronicling the lives of women at that time. When a man hitting a woman for bringing him coffee, that was not the right temperature was justified. Be it, Charity, or her daughter’s lot, or her daughter-in-law’s life.. A portrait of society where a woman’s role was primarily to ensure that her husband’s life is enhanced, even if her own is endangered.
It was an enjoyable read. It gave me a lot of insight to the lives of people at that point in time. The belief system, the caste divides, the politics of caste and religion and the bigger question of India’s independence all part of the same book. It did make me wish that there were more women who made a real difference in the book, but then again, it might just have been a reflection of times. It would interest anybody who likes historical fiction, even it is not very old history.
I would give it a 3.5 on five.