The protagonist in this unconventional debut is India itself, alive and pulsating with all its wild contradictions and bewitching charms. Barely adhering to the confines of a novel, Mandava offers a number of largely autonomous plots linked by chance meetings and the hand of fate. Characters from two separate stories meet on a train in a third narrative strand; a character from one narrative benefits from the tragedy of a woman in another; the same cake is shared by a terrorist in one portion of the novel and a beggar girl in another. Beginning with Ravi, suffering from the mental anguish of his burn-scarred face, and of his attempts to woo the beautiful dancing girl Ana, the book swiftly picks up other lives along its propulsive way. Ravi, transformed, reemerges later as a holy man in a perceptive tale of a husband and wife, he a New Yorker, she an Indian-American on an awkward and revelatory vacation to her homeland. In perhaps the most distressing of the chapters, Navina, soon to enter into an arranged marriage with Ajay, a handsome doctor, is assaulted by the tailor of her wedding sari. In a rage at her ignorance of his love for her, the tailor splashes her face with acid. From this, a chain of loosely related events follows: We meet the young woman who is Ajay's second choice for a bride, who sees a move to America as a move to modernity; we see the deeply conflicted Ajay in New York with his mistress Joanna; and we follow Ajay as he briefly encounters the taxi driver Vyshna, whose own story follows. Like most of the characters here, Vyshna faces the often difficult or baffling events of life with fortitude and grace. Addictively interesting (and particularly sensitive to the status of women), the collective whole offers an absorbing glimpse into contemporary Indian life and its clash with encroaching Western culture.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 1996

ISBN: 1-878067-86-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1996

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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