Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Preeta SAMARASAN ... Evening Is the Whole Day (May 2008)

Preeta Samarasan
(Houghton Mifflin/Fourth Estate, June 2, 2008)

“A MAGICAL, EXUBERANT tragic-comic vision of postcolonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy. In prose of acrobatic grace, Samarasan conjures a vibrant portrait, by turns intimate and sweeping, of characters and a country coming of age. The début of a significant, and thrilling, new talent.” Peter Ho Davies, Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Welsh Girl (2007)


FIRST, we had Beth Yahp with The Crocodile Fury (1992) and Rani Manicka with The Rice Mother (2002) and Touching Earth (2004), then we had Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng with The Harmony Silk Factory (2005) and The Gift of Rain (2007) respectively. Now we have a new literary voice on the horizon: Preeta Samarasan, with her first novel, Evening Is the Whole Day (2008).

When a rubber-plantation servant girl is dismissed for an unnamed crime from the prosperous Rajasekharan family’s home, six-year-old Aasha begins to realise that mystery shrouds the event. This is their third loss in a matter of weeks: Paati, the family’s ageing grandmother, has died under mysterious circumstances, and Uma, their golden child, has escaped to Columbia University with no plans to return. As the novel gradually moves backward in time to tell the story of the years leading up to these events, we learn how the Rajasekharan family came to occupy the Big House, and how Oxford-educated Appa, the family patriarch, courted Amma, the humble girl-next-door, and what happened to Appa’s big dreams for his family and his country. Along the way, we begin to uncover the answers to the many questions that haunt this damaged family: What was Chellam’s unforgivable crime? Why did Uma become so withdrawn in the months before she left home? How and why did Paati die? What did six-year-old Aasha see? And most pressingly for Aasha, why is Amma, her mother, so angry at Appa, her father?

Circling through years of family history to arrive at the moment of Uma’s definitive departure―stranding her worshipful younger sister in a family, and a country, slowly going to pieces―Evening Is the Whole Day illuminates in heartbreaking detail the family’s layers of secrets and lies, while exposing the sordid underbelly of postcolonial Malaysia itself.

Preeta Samarasan was born and raised in Malaysia and moved to the U.S. for her high-school education. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where an early version of this novel won the Hopwood Novel Award. She recently won the Asian American Writer’s Workshop short-story award. She lives in France.


“Rich, quirky and colourful, Evening Is the Whole Day captures not just the sense of a family struggling to deal with its past, but the crazy uncertainty of a country coming to terms with itself. Often funny, sometimes sad, never predictable, this is a novel that announces a unique talent.” Tash Aw, the author of The Harmony Silk Factory (2005)

“A wonderfully engaging novel, poignant yet comical, about the contradictions and hazards inherent in a modern, postcolonial world.” M.G. Vassanji, author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003)

Preeta Samarasan’s passionate, striking book, stunned with light and heat, is full of the memory of enchantment and the enchantment of memory. Samarasan cultivates with brilliance the taut battle between the public and familial being, and the hidden and fragile inner self, trapped in a world of myth and mystery.” Susanna Moore, author of One Last Look (2003)


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