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The Rice Mother


The Rice Mother

Promised in marriage at 14, Lakshmi must leave the comfort of her
village in Ceylon with her new husband. Sailing to Malaysia with
this older man she has just met, Lakshmi is forced to quickly grow
up and become a woman, wife, stepmother and homemaker. So begins
Rani Manicka's rich debut novel. THE RICE MOTHER is the story of
Lakshmi, her children, grandchildren and great-granddaughter ---
their lives, struggles and subtle triumphs. It is the story,
especially, of four generations of women. From Lakshmi to her
great-granddaughter Nisha, the novel follows the family and all of
its strong personalities across Malaysia, through World War II and
the Japanese occupation, past violence, drug abuses, marriages,
births, losses and family secrets.

Lakshmi builds a life with her husband, Ayah, and they have five
children together. But Lakshmi is still bitter because her husband
is not as rich as his family had claimed. Ayah is a passive and
gentle man who lets her run the household and raise the children
according to her own desires. Fiercely proud and often selfish,
Lakshmi never succeeds in treating her children equally or her
husband fairly. It is only as she grows older that she discovers
she had grown to love Ayah at all. Her children are affected by the
tensions present in the house, and as each grows up they chose a
variety of ways to respond to their mother. Lakshmi's oldest
children, twins Lakshmnan and Mohini, are the most developed and
dynamic. Lakshmi loves these two for their beauty and potential,
but each breaks her heart in very different ways. The story is
carried through Lakshmnan's line, and the tensions between his
wife, Rani, and his mother are staggering. In fact, the
relationships between mothers and daughters-in-law provide much of
the novel's emotional action.

Ultimately, Lakshmi's ambitions for herself, her children and her
family are never realized. What is left instead is a painful family
history caught on audiotape and a great granddaughter left to
grapple with the truths about her family and its matriarchs.
Lakshmi and Ayah's family is deeply scarred, and Manicka is wise in
choosing not to tidy things up for the reader. She does, however,
at the end introduce a device to explain the family's bad luck, in
the form of a stolen statue of Kuan Yin --- this may not be
convincing for discerning readers.

Written from many points of view, in the voice of many of the
family members, THE RICE MOTHER is at times confusing. This is an
overly complex novel despite the fairly commonplace themes, and
that complexity occasionally overshadows the story itself.
Manicka's details are quite precise but, in the end, don't always
transport the reader. Sometimes the story is just too big and
cluttered. Still, as a tale of women and family patterns, THE RICE
MOTHER is successful, and this is a promising debut. Manicka's
voice is strongest in presenting the sadness and loneliness of
characters, and in the beauty and culture of South Asia.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011

The Rice Mother
by Rani Manicka

  • Publication Date: July 27, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0142004545
  • ISBN-13: 9780142004548