Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Climbing the Stairs Review (Padma Venkatraman)

Vidya is a fifteen-year-old Indian girl belonging to a non-traditional Brahamn family in WWII English-occupied India. She dreams of attending college and doing something grand with her life. But when her father is thrown into jail, she and her family must live with her traditional-minded grandfather. In his home, women do not go outside unveiled, they do not eat with the men, they live downstairs separately from the men, and they most certainly do not attend colleges.

In a desperate attempt to escape from her new, boring life - and her conniving aunt -, Vidya dares venture upstairs into the men's portion of the house and into her grandfather's library. It is there that she meets Raman - a young man who believes that women should be allowed the same freedoms as men.

Thus begins a secret friendship that blossoms into more, and when WWII strikes India hard, Vidya comes to realize that Raman may be the only one who can keep her from losing everything she cares about.

This book is a story about a strong young Indian girl living in one of the most perilous times in history, trying to break through the traditional view of a woman's role in life. She is discouraged about going to college when she finds herself surrounded by traditional-minded men and women, telling her that she must give up on her fantastical ideas and accept her role in life. But Raman offers her encouragement and support in her dreams, and with WWII affecting life in India, she comes to realize that she must not give up on her dreams of becoming a doctor.

With Padma Venkatraman's colorful and personal insight into Brahamn households, she offers a good comparison between the traditional and non-traditional forms of their living. Her well-developed characters makes it easy to fall in love with them and hate those who would obstruct their happiness. British-occupied India, and the looming threat of WWII, offers a colorful and interesting backdrop that leaves plenty of room for heart-pounding action, and the different viewpoints that are offered on the political struggles during that time make it a good book for group discussion. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed it.
Overall Rating: |||||

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