I read this last week and am still not sure what to think about it. I enjoyed reading it but yet it was a difficult read. I found it moving, but don't know whether that was because of sentimentality or something profound.
Briefly, the book centres on the lives of three women. It becomes apparent fairly early on - so I don't consider this a spoiler - that one is the mother of the other two, twins. The mother and one daughter live in India, the other twin was adopted by a British Indian couple and lives a prosperous Westernised life in England.
The book alternates chapters between the three, showing how each of the twins finds out about the other's existence, and slowly telling the story of the mother's life and how she came to give one up.
Renita D'Silva, from her photograph, appears to be of Indian heritage. Before I read this I assumed from her name that she was of Goan ancestry, although the book illustrates that the Portuguese influence in India went beyond Goa. I have been to Goa, although only on a package holiday to a beach resort so can't pretend to know much about Indian culture.
It was the close scrutiny of Indian society that I found difficult, especially the antiquated view of women's behaviour, especially as perpetuated by women. The bitchiness and judgmentalism - as I say, I know little of Indian society, but this rings true from what I have read in the Press, especially around subjects such as sexual assault, 'honour' and even access to toilets and, thus, indirectly, to education. And yet, the book is also about kindness and generosity of spirit.
So, what is the book about? It's about the lives and personalities of these three women, so I suppose if I was putting it into a genre it would be 'literary'. But there is a snobbishness inherent in 'literary fiction' that really requires its writers (and, preferably its readers) to have studied at Oxford or Cambridge, and, preferably, English Literature. I haven't studied English Literature, not even at A -Level, and certainly not at Oxbridge, so I'm not qualified to judge whether this is a good book.
But I do know that I enjoyed reading, despite (or because of?) the difficulty. The writer brought these characters to life, and wrote lovingly and evocatively about the landscape and traditions of Western India. Each of the mother's chapters started with a simple recipe for food, which is a brilliant idea, and should be included in more novels. There were weaknesses in the book: at times the dialogue was stilted - Nisha, the English twin, spoke out loud to her boyfriend using vocabulary and syntax that was surprising from a statistician, and would probably not be used by an Arts graduate except in creative writing. It was also difficult fully to accept the articulate nature of the mother's diary, seeing that she was a very poor peasant woman (and, I'm guessing, would barely be literate). But this was a legitimate literary device and not one I found irritating.
I will read more books by this author, but perhaps not any time soon. I prefer books with a plot, and with humour (however black or bleak), and, I'm afraid to say, I generally also prefer books that I can identify with: I felt frustrated by the structural sexism of Indian society. I'm sure this was the aim of the author, and it's good to address such issues, but, ultimately, I read fiction for entertainment.