Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Outage & Notes on Tiger Hills

Yes, I took the night off from blogging.  No, I don't wear pink.
A Blogger outage is not necessarily a bad thing. 

I planned to write a blog on Sarita Mandanna's Tiger Hills last night.  I clicked on the sign-in button.  Nothing.  I learned that Blogger was "unavailable."   Maintenance.  One of those slots when Google mechanics tinker and tune.  I cheerfully went about my business and smugly got in an extra hour of reading.

Today.  Same thing.  Only worse.  My blog entry on Kipps disappeared. 

I read a couple of Blogger statements about a (possibly bungled) routine repair job. Blogger said it temporarily deleted entries posted Wednesday.  And it said it would restore the posts. 

And it did! My Kipps post showed up again a few minutes ago.

And a good thing, too.  Because I didn't back up the post. I'm careless when it comes to keeping copies of blog entries. 

But it also teaches you what's important.  Would it matter if my post on Kipps disappeared?  Yes, to me.  Not to anyone else.  Except in the sense that someone might visit the blog and decide to read Kipps.  It's not, however, a stampede kind of situation.  It's not:  Pentagon down!  Or:  Elizabeth Arden down!  (I'm more concerned about the latter than the former.)

I could have written on my computer last night.  Heavens, what is the computer for?  But it struck me that I had very little to say about Sarita Mandanna's readable new novel, Tiger Hills, a plot-driven Indian family saga reminiscent in parts of Gone with the Wind. I wrote a few notes.  

Here they are:

Tiger Hills was a best-seller in India and a Channel 4 Book TV pick in the UK.   It is easy to see why.  I picked up a copy at random (I liked the cover) to read in the B&N cafe and ended up buying it.  I raced through the opening pages of this engaging novel, set in Coorg in Southern India from 1878-.1940  The first 100 pages are charming and lyrical, introducing the main characters, Devi, the first girl to be born in her family in over sixty years, and Devanna, a shy brainy neighbor boy whose friendship with Devi helps him cope after his mother's suicide.  Throughout the novel, comedy and romance are interlaced with tragedy. And Devi's and Devanna's stories are intertwined.

From birth, Devi is bold, mischievous, beautiful, and spoiled, while Devanna is quiet and studious. Mandanna's buoyant narrative sweetly skims the border of magic realism.

“Devi had only to frown and her grandmother, Tayi, would come running, bribing her with salted gooseberries and cubes of jaggery until she deigned to smile again....When the family realized that Devi was fond of fish, come rain or shine, Tayi would be at the weekly shanty so early that the vendors would still be setting out their wares.”

Then, at a “tiger wedding,” a rite honoring Devanna’s cousin, Machu, a hunter who has killed a tiger, Devi falls in love with Machu.  Years later, she sets out to seduce him at a religious festival. Devanna, who is also in love with Devi, is oblvious and assumes he will marry her.  But the selfish subliminal homoerotic love of a priest at the local mission school destroys Devanna's future.  Wanting to keep him nearby, he destroys a letter suggesting Devanna go to Oxford and directs him to an Indian medical school instead.  By that act, the priest ensures that Devanna will endure years of suffering which will, in turn, wreck the lives of Devi and Machu. (Imperialists have a genius for ruining lives in India; a selfish seductive Englishwoman later ruins the life of Machu's son.)  And the horrifying "ragging" (repeated beating and rape of Devanna that no one reports ) at the Indian medical school is so terrifying that I almost couldn't read it.  

A very sad novel.  I had to stop in the second hundred pages and almost didn't finish the novel because I was so depressed by what happened to Devanna.  Somehow the essentially romantic framework of the novel seemed the wrong place to encounter tragedy:  it shifts abruptly from near-magic realism and romance to brutal descriptions of violence.  Oddly enough, it is Devi, not Devanna, who turns into a  monster (and she, of course, has her reasons, but Devanna's destruction was more complete.)  Mandanna doesn't hesitate to turn Devi, a once willful girl, into a selfish, cruel, and insensitive woman. She acquires a coffee estate and makes a lot of money, but is ruthless in her personal relations and wrecks several lives through her emotional abuse.  She is a terrible mother, wasting all her affection on Machu's child by another woman and disliking her own son.  The son she favors is spoiled; the other loses his confidence through her abuse.   And  Devanna, the real victim, remains in the background, horrified tht the tragedy that destroyed him so utterly wrecked Devi.

The impact of Devi's cruelty on the next generation is shattering.  History repeats itself in a way.  People pay heavily for involvement with her.  But there is redemption. 
Mandanna's writing is exuberant, the plot is fast-paced, and one cares about the characters.  I respected the complexity of the different threads of the novel.  An absorbing summer read.

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