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As Sweet as Honey

Cover of As Sweet as Honey

As Sweet as Honey

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In her latest novel, Indira Ganesan, a writer often likened to Arundhati Roy and Chitra Divakaruni (see back of jacket for reviews), gives us an enchanting story of family life that is a dance of love and grief and rebirth set on a gorgeous island in the Indian Ocean.

The island is filled with exotic flora and fauna and perfumed air. A large family compound is presided over by a benign, stalwart grandmother. There is a very tall South Asian heroine with the astonishing un-Indian name of Meterling, who has found love at last in the shape of a short, round, elegant Englishman who wears white suits. There are also numerous aunts, uncles, and young cousins--among them, Mina, grown now, and telling this story of a marriage ceremony that ends with a widowed bride who, in the midst of her grief, discovers she is pregnant.

While enjoying their own games and growing pains, Mina and her young cousins follow every nuance of gossip, trying to puzzle out what is going on with their favorite aunt, particularly when the groom's cousin arrives from England and begins to woo her. As Meterling--torn between Eastern and Western ideas of love and family, duty and loyalty--struggles to make a new life, we become as entranced with this family, its adventures and complications, as Mina is.

And with her we celebrate a time and place where, although sometimes difficult, life was for the most part as sweet as honey.



From the Hardcover edition.

In her latest novel, Indira Ganesan, a writer often likened to Arundhati Roy and Chitra Divakaruni (see back of jacket for reviews), gives us an enchanting story of family life that is a dance of love and grief and rebirth set on a gorgeous island in the Indian Ocean.

The island is filled with exotic flora and fauna and perfumed air. A large family compound is presided over by a benign, stalwart grandmother. There is a very tall South Asian heroine with the astonishing un-Indian name of Meterling, who has found love at last in the shape of a short, round, elegant Englishman who wears white suits. There are also numerous aunts, uncles, and young cousins--among them, Mina, grown now, and telling this story of a marriage ceremony that ends with a widowed bride who, in the midst of her grief, discovers she is pregnant.

While enjoying their own games and growing pains, Mina and her young cousins follow every nuance of gossip, trying to puzzle out what is going on with their favorite aunt, particularly when the groom's cousin arrives from England and begins to woo her. As Meterling--torn between Eastern and Western ideas of love and family, duty and loyalty--struggles to make a new life, we become as entranced with this family, its adventures and complications, as Mina is.

And with her we celebrate a time and place where, although sometimes difficult, life was for the most part as sweet as honey.



From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1

    Our aunt Meterling stood over six feet tall, a giantess, a tree. From her limbs came large hands, which always held a shower of snacks for us children. We could place two of our feet in one of her sandals, and her green shawl made for a roof to cover our play forts. We loved Meterling, because she was so devotedly freakish, because she rained everyone with affection, and because we felt that anyone that tall had to be supernaturally gifted. No one actually said she was a ghost, or a saint, or a witch, but we watched for signs nevertheless. She knew we suspected her of tricks, for she often smiled at us and displayed sleight of hand, pulling coins and shells out of thin air. But that, said Rasi, ­didn't prove anything; Rasi had read The Puffin Book of Magic Tricks and pretty much knew them all, and was not so easily impressed.

    What was interesting, and never expected, was that Aunt Meterling married the littlest man she knew. He was four feet seven, dapper, and jolly. The ­grown-­ups were embarrassed and affronted, for like Auntie Sita said, it was bad enough having a freakishly tall woman in the family. Yet, they were all relieved that Aunt Meterling found Uncle Archer and he, her.

    The wedding was a small enough affair as weddings go, but the bridegroom rode to town in a white baby Aston Martin decked with garlands of roses and basil, and the first marriage rites took place at dawn.

    Someone said how sad it was that Meterling's parents could not be at the wedding, but neither could Archer's. I wondered what Meterling's father had been like. He had named her, after all. Who had he been? A man smitten with the German language, it seemed, for her name sounded German, and smitten, too, with his family. A man who died, with his beloved wife, in a car accident, all those years ago. A man who loved his daughter enough to name her something special. A man who must be still alive in Meterling's heart, I thought.

    And her mother? A small, sweet woman who must have loved her daughter, even as she might have seen something in her that marked her for a fragile future. Also absent, also loved, also missing the wedding. I could comprehend Meterling's longing for her family, because my own father and mother were in America, land of dreams and snow. But lose a mother and ­a father--­no, that was impossible! I could only imagine so far.

    I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, straining to see if my aunt would change somehow after the fire ceremony, the part where she walked seven steps hand in hand with Uncle Archer, but she kept her eyes downcast, as became a modest bride, while the priests chanted all around her. She wore a ­reddish-­pinkish gold sari from Kanchi, with twelve inches of gold jhari on its border and thirty-six on the paloo; she had mendhi on her hands and feet, aglow from a bath of turmeric and sandal. In her hair was jasmine, rose, and tulsi. She wore an engagement ring, and during the ceremony she'd get a gold ring on her third finger, left hand, and a ring on her toe. Uncle Archer would get a ring as well. He wore a white pajama suit of heavy material all the way from Bombay, a pink tie, a boutonnière, and sandals. That he was wearing a suit instead of a formal dhoti was radical enough, whispered the aunts, but to hold hands before the ceremony was too much. We knew something was afoot but were not quite sure what the problem was. He's being intimate, giggled Sanjay, stamping his feet while Rasi and I pretended not to know him. We just shook our heads as our aunts ­did--­we were smart enough to know that rules were being broken left and right, and ­didn't need Sanjay to tell us, even if it appeared...

About the Author-
  • Indira Ganesan was born in Srirangam, India, and moved to the United States as a child. She graduated from Vassar College and received an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her previous novels were The Journey and Inheritance. She currently lives in Provincetown, MA.

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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