The Woman Who Climbed Trees
Author: Smriti Ravindra
Publisher: HarperCollins India
MRP: Rs. 599/-
Thank you @harpercollinsin for a media copy of the book
Smriti Ravindra's debut novel The Woman Who Climbed Trees is a beautifully crafted, multi-generational saga that explores the complex lives of women in India and Nepal. Set between the 1960s to the early 2000s, the book centers around Meena, who gets married at the tender age of fourteen to Manmohan, a man eleven years her senior, and moves from her hometown in India to her husband's village in Nepal.
What ensues is a poignant tale of love, longing, grief, madness, and the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Meena's trajectory from a carefree girl to a troubled woman trying desperately to hold on to her sanity is told through vivid scenes and evocative language. The writing sparkles with vivid imagery, witty dialogues, and astute social commentary. Ravindra excels in bringing alive the sights, sounds, and smells of small-town India and rural Nepal. The dichotomy between Meena's middle-class upbringing in India versus the relative hardship of village life in Nepal is striking. The author also paints a fascinating portrait of Kathmandu in the 1970s and 80s through Meena's eyes when she visits the city.
At the novel's heart lies the complex, mysterious bond between Meena and her mother Kaveri. Their relationship forms the emotional anchor of the book. Kaveri is a towering yet cryptic figure, by turns vivacious and volatile. The terra incognita of the mother-daughter relationship is explored with great sensitivity. Ravindra also deserves praise for her psychological insight into Meena's descent into madness after a series of personal tragedies. The magical realism element blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Meena's imaginary conversations with Bollywood actors and her personification of death add to the gothic nature of the narrative.
While child marriage and such customs were prelevant in India(and all over the world), it is important to note that such incidences do not happen in present times.)
The book is a potent feminist critique of patriarchy and examines how societal forces like early marriage and motherhood shape women's destinies. However, the feminism is subtle, not in-your-face, and articulated through the daily lives of Meena, Kaveri, and other female characters. The supporting characters like Meena's sisters, her best friend Sachi, and sister-in-law Kumud are well-etched out. But the two characters that stand out are Meena's sons Adi and Preeti, through whose perspectives we get glimpses into Meena's inner world.
The Woman Who Climbed Trees works well both as a family drama and a psychological study of a troubled woman sinking steadily into darkness. Smriti Ravindra's lyrical prose and deep emotional insights make this a must-read literary debut. I highly recommend it to all fiction lovers. It's one of the best Indian novels I've read recently
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