Monday, October 24, 2011

Tell It To The Trees

Thanks to Anita Rau Badami's newest novel, I have a dirty house! Instead of cleaning up this weekend, I was stuck to the couch madly reading Tell it to the Trees. I have been a big fan of Badami's since her first novel, Tamarind Mem. Her previous (and timely) work, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? was a book that both Dave and I share as one of our favourites. So I have eagerly been waiting to cracking open her new one.

What I enjoy most about Badami's writing style is that she does not seem to be afraid to tackle the big subjects using real characters with cracks and crevices in their personalities. Tell it to the Trees continues in the same vein. The Dharma family is a second or third generation immigrant family originally from southern India. The now dead grandfather, J.D., moved his family to a remote community in the backwoods of B.C., much to the chagrin of his unhappy wife, Akka, and son, Vikram. J.D. supposedly dies in a drunken stupor in a snowstorm. This sets the scene for the family's unhappiness. Vikram is now a man with two children: Varsha from his first (and also dead) wife Helen, and Hemant. He is currently married to Suman, who he met in India.

Suman is clearly depressed and desperate. Vikram is both physically and verbally abusive of her and the children. She tries her best to please him but of course nothing is every good enough. Her only support is in Akka, her mother-in-law, who encourages her to leave but can not do much else to help as she suffers from unknown medical conditions.

Varsha is thirteen years old. Her mother Helen died in a car accident when she was younger and she desperately wants to make sure that Suman will not "abondon" her either. She manipulates both Suman and Hemant but also clearly loves them.

The family continues to stumble their way around each other, doing their best to avoid or deflect Vikram's rages and violence. Until Anu enters the picture. Anu is also Indian but has lived a much more modern and liberal lifestyle. She rents the cottage so that she can take some time to write, something she has always wanted to do. Anu is a breath of fresh air for the family. She brings the support and modern voice that Suman craves. She also recognizes Varsha for the troubled 13 year-old that she is.

The novel opens to police searching the family's backyard for Anu's remains, after she went missing in a snowstorm. Anymore details and I will give to much of the story away. Suffice to say that Badami has done an excellent job of exploring some very tough issues: learned behaviour in children, abusive families, issues that occur when living in a remote community, and the trouble with family secrets. I have lots of questions that I am looking forward to asking Badami about this novel when she comes to Waterloo on November 16th. For more information on her event with us click HERE.

- Bronwyn

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