Tell A Thousand Lies by Rasana Atreya
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Where I got the book: copy supplied by author.
Whoops! This was supposed to be my April indie review but yeah, I got a bit behind. This was one of those occasions where an author cold-pitches me and I'm immediately intrigued by the setup, but I had NO IDEA of the directions this novel was going to go in. It starts quietly: because Pullamma's dark-skinned and tall and therefore not attractive by the standards of her corner of rural India, she is allowed to be present at her sister's bride-viewing party (she won't distract the future bridegroom's attention from her sister). So straightaway you have this sketch of what life is (was?) like for a woman without dowry or beauty: pretty bleak. I loved the way Atreya put me straight into India; unfortunately I've never visited the country but I got a vivid picture of the scene, the attitudes of the villagers, Pullamma's own drily humorous resignation to her lot. And all this in flawless English that wasn't any the less Indian for being correct.
So I wasn't expecting the stranger who throws himself at Pullamma's feet, a dead child in his arms...
Which neatly introduces the second theme, that of superstition. Pretty interesting, because I was sure at the outset that it would be Pullamma's dark skin (equating to unattractiveness) that would limit her options as a woman, but in fact it's the superstitious gullibility of the villagers that both traps and frees her. Pullamma's newfound status as a goddess makes her, for the first time in her life, useful, but unfortunately the man she's useful to is the unrelievedly evil Kondal Rao who exploits her for his political aims. The drastic action that she's forced to take to escape Rao's influence frees her from the limitations she's imposed upon herself, while causing her heartbreak worthy of Bollywood drama at its best.
And that's how I ended up seeing it: as a Bollywood story, full of improbable coincidences and tragic sobs. The melodrama lessens its effectiveness as a novel from a Western viewpoint but wow, what a story. I'd love to see it made into a movie.
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