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The Rice Mother
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Winner of the South East Asia and South Pacific Region Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2003

About the Author

Rani Manicka was born and educated in Malaysia. An economics graduate, she now divides her time between Malaysia and the UK. The Rice Mother won the South East Asia and South Pacific Region 2003 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, has been translated into 22 languages, and gained international acclaim.

Reviews

When 14-year-old Lakshmi marries a widower of 37, she believes that she is leaving her Sri Lankan village for a life of luxury in Malaysia. Instead, she endures hardship and poverty, giving birth to six children in the years before the Japanese invasion of World War II. In this gripping multigenerational saga, the tumultuous history of Malaysia becomes the backdrop for Lakshmi's indomitable spirit. The barbarity of the Japanese, postwar prosperity, the bursting of the Southeast Asian financial bubble, the vice trades of opium, gambling, and sex-all take their toll on Lakshmi's children and grandchildren. However, while her husband and ultimately all of her children prove to be disappointments, Lakshmi continues to love them and do what's best for all of them, even if it seems cruel. First novelist Manicka's sympathetic portrait of this larger-than-life matriarch is based on her own grandmother. Her page-turner, narrated in turn by Lakshmi and various family members, is not only a portrait of one family but also a tantalizing glimpse of an unfamiliar world. Strongly recommended for most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/03.]-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

It would be difficult not to be seduced by . . . the intriguing mixture of myth, religion and superstition . . . there is a freedom and freshness in the manner in which the author explores the interior life of her characters whose idiosyncrasies and many failings are sympathetically and sometimes humorously observed . . . It possesses a genuine intimacy and passionate involvement. - Elizabeth Buchan, Times PlayYou'll struggle to find a more powerful, moving read this year. - GlamourEmotionally satisfying, complex books like this are harder to find. - HeatI simply didn't want it to end . . . The characters themselves, with their resolute individualism, ultimately seem larger than either the superbly drawn historical background or the novel's exotic setting - Image MagazineA vivid storyteller . . . Unfolding over four generations like a Greek tragedy, it's a compulsive and often harrowing tale. - In StyleEchoes of Memoirs of a Geisha in this exotic family saga - Daily MirrorPowerful - Sunday MirrorDrips with local colour . . . wonderful. - Daily Mail

Manicka's luminous first novel is a multigenerational story about a Sri Lankan family in Malaysia. In the 1920s, Lakshmi is a bright-eyed, carefree child in Ceylon. But at 14, her mother marries her to Ayah, a 37-year-old rich widower living in Malaysia. When she arrives at her new home, she promptly discovers that Ayah is not rich at all, but a clerk who had borrowed a gold watch and a servant to trick Lakshmi's mother. Ayah is for the most part a decent man, however, and Lakshmi rallies and takes control of a sprawling household that soon includes six children of her own. There is a period of contented family life before WWII and the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, during which Lakshmi's eldest and most beautiful daughter, Mohini, is abducted and killed by Japanese soldiers. The family unravels as Ayah withdraws and Lakshmi falls prey to fits of rage. Mohini's twin brother, Lakshmnan, becomes a compulsive gambler, leaving his own wife and three children impoverished. The story is told through the shifting perspectives of different family members, including son Sevenese, who can see the dead; youngest daughter, Lalita, neither pretty nor gifted; Rani, Lakshmnan's fierce and beleaguered wife; and Lakshmnan's daughter, Dimple. Their voices are convincingly distinct, and the prismatic sketches form a cohesive and vibrant saga. Manicka can be a bit syrupy on the subjects of childhood and maternal love, but she also has a fine feeling for domestic strife and the ways in which grief permeates a household. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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