Monday, May 03, 2010

Year of the Historical: Climbing the Stairs

Climbing the StairsClimbing the Stairs Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is 15, the daughter of a liberal family in Bombay during WWII and India's independence movement. When her father is beaten by the British during an independence rally, he lives, but his brain is damaged. The family is forced to move in with Vidya's conservative grandfather. There, Vidya's aunts make life even harder for Vidya and her mother. Vidya's only solace is the library, which is located upstairs in the male part of the house, and therefore forbidden to her.

There is a lot going on here-- Vidya caught between the freedom of her old life and the strictness of her new one, her pain at her father's injuries, the best way to get rid of the British, and the problems of nonviolence when it comes to Hitler. Despite all the meat, it doesn't get overwhelming or bog down. I always forget that the independence movement and WWII overlap. I also never realized how close Japan got to India (although once I thought about it, um... duh.)

A great look at a girl caught in a changing world and trying to find her own place in it.

I have one question-- at one point, Vidya's brother explains that Japan wants India because it'll give them access to China, Russia, and the Middle East. Now, outside of China, I don't know that much about the Pacific War, but I also know at this point (1941), Japan had been in China and Russia for years. Was Japan actively searching to attack these countries from multiple fronts?

Climbing the StairsI'm not a huge fan of the paperback cover and much prefer the hardcover. Vidya actively resists marriage and isn't into fashion and jewelry-- she prefers wearing half-saris to full saris because it's easier to climb trees. Also, what's with the downcast expression? Vidya's always getting into trouble because she won't lower her gaze or keep her mouth shut! I just don't see Vidya in the girl on the new cover.

Book Provided by... my local library

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