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"Motherland"

Vineeta Vijayaraghavan’s debut novel deserves the rave reviews it is getting. Set in the early 90s in India, the book explores the scenario of reverse migration. Maya is a fifteen year old girl from New York, spending the summer at her grandmother’s house in a small tea estate in India. Maya had been brought up for the first four years of her life in India by her grandmother while her parents relocated in New York. Ovr the three months that the story spans Maya resolves her dual loyalties, learns about her past, and is able to understand the estrangement she feels with her mother. Vineeta has painted an interesting socio-political background: the story unfolds shortly after the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, and the tale has references to the incident and its investigation, as well as public opinion interwoven into the fabric of this story with a lot of skill.

Maya’s story is not just that of a girl back in India from the US. Its universal appeal lies in that Vineeta explores Maya’s thoughts and actions in the context of any fifteen year old girl. The sensitivity of the age coupled with the sense of not really being sure what home is – New York or India – makes Maya an enigmatic and endearing character.

Other characters in the book are given their due. Characterization is strong and the people are real. Sanjay and Reema as the uncle and aunt in India are modern people stuck in a labyrinth of tradition and sense of propriety. The grandmother who has an inherent guilt that the demise of Maya’s twin Shivani shortly after birth in India was somehow caused by her insistence on the tradition that the children should be born back home in India. Perhaps one of the very strong supporting characters is Maya’s mother herself who makes a brief appearance towards the end of the book when the grandmother is on her deathbed. Having alienated Maya for greater part of fifteen years she realizes that giving Maya a sense of belonging, getting close to her, and being her mother is the thing most important to her.

Vineeta brings a cultural environment alive, and uses humor freely to express the conflicts Maya finds with her own way of thinking and what she finds as the “standards of behavior” expected of her in India.

Read it! The book is available at the HBS Coop at 20% discount for $18.40 in hardcover.

February 20, 2001
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