Like a series of evocative miniatures, a second novel by Ganesan (The Journey, 1990) that suggests the idyll of an imperfect matriarchy. Narrated by 15-year-old Sonil in brief episodes and glimpses, the story follows the girl's roundabout but assured awakening to herself on the multicultural, contemporary island of Pi off the Indian subcontinent. Though writing about a nearly Edenic place, Ganesan takes care that the Pi also come across as not altogether unworldly. And so we meet a down-at-the-heels collection of cosmopolitan wanderers and odd locals, earthy yet only inches removed from myth: Sonil's much-married and socially reviled, rebellious mother, who had more or less abandoned her daughter from the start; Sonil's generous and adorable grandmother, who—in a pleasantly shambling way—can do no wrong; her repressed but passionate cousin Jani, who desperately flees her suitors for a convent; and her ethereal great-uncle, a painter whose ``body was merely pretending to be flesh.'' Sonil meets an American who is twice her age; falls in love for the first time; and is left hanging when this love object picks up and leaves. Ultimately, Sonil's grandmother dies, though before that, people float in and land fleetingly, like mirages, on the island, which begins to resemble a microcosmic kaleidoscope of the human, the natural, and the magical folded into one—a small, storied panoply of Ganesan's imagination. But her style is relaxed, even casual. Unlike the righteous, raised tone of epics, polemics, and fictional creeds, hers is kind and humorous: ``I thought about animals and their capacity for change, how species evolved,'' Sonil muses. ``And I began to think of the ability to abstain from love as a particularly human trait. But . . . surely there were earthworms that were monkish in their habits?'' But the character of Sonil's American hippie boyfriend is tritely drawn, and the book's first third is too slowly plotted, like an anticlimactic reverie. Still, Ganesan's ingenious charms as a social and spiritual observer bejewel the novel.
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