Two seemingly disparate stories open this engrossing debut novel. Latha, who enjoys the smaller luxuries of life – bathing with a stolen bar of pink Lux soap – is both servant and best friend to Thara, the only child of the Vithanages with whom the young orphan girl has lived since she was five. Biso, who insists on her proper upbringing to anyone who will listen, can no longer bear her abusive husband, and decides to escape her seaside village with her three children hoping to seek refuge far away with her unknowing aunt.
Latha’s story, told in third person, weaves through decades of her troubled life. Initially brought up side by side with her employer’s daughter, she is unwilling to settle for a life of blind obedience. Her naive schemes – originally inspired by a jealous desire for a pair of new sandals – leaves her pregnant and banished to a convent where she bears a nameless child she is forced to relinquish. She is unexpectedly summoned back by Thara to the same painfully mixed existence in which she vacillates between invisible servant and all-knowing confidante.
The immediacy of Biso’s story, which lasts a mere few days, is presented in first person as if to add to its fleeting urgency. Traveling by train, Biso meets numerous kind strangers during her crowded journey: a frightened young pregnant girl, a caring gentleman traveling alone, an older vendor who helps feed her hungry children. Yet the kindness of strangers cannot save her from grave tragedy … which will ultimately weave the two narrative threads tightly together.
Watch for the white dress – it becomes quite the leitmotif for sisterhood, motherhood, family … and how we all literally shred the ties that bind.
Tidbit: More fabulous news indeed! This just in on July 28, 2009 … Ru Freeman will be joining us for SALTAF 2009 on Saturday, November 7. Mark your calendars NOW and be sure to grab a seat in our audience!