Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Book Review: Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth by Aruna Nambiar.

Book: Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth

Author: Aruna Nambiar

Pages: 243

Publisher: Westland Books

Read On: Kindle

How Long it Took Me To Read: 3-4 days (with several breaks)

Plot Summary: Set in small-town Kerala of the 1980s, Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth is part coming-of-age story, part social satire and part comedy of errors. Geetha, elevenish, is off for the annual family vacation in Kerala and is looking forward to all the fun with her cousins – visits to the beach and trips to the market to buy glass bangles and kites and shuttlecocks, evenings in the veranda listening to her grandfather’s ridiculous ghost stories which he swears are all true, marathon card games and ferocious boys-versus-girls battles with the bristles of brooms made from coconut fibre… 

But as the summer unfolds, Geetha finds herself spending more time instead at the back of the house with the free-spirited cook, the hypochondriac cleaner, the virile gardener, a cheeky helper girl… ...And Babu, son of Koovait Kannan, the bumbling plumber who made good. Babu’s family is immersed, meanwhile, in the wedding preparations for Babu’s sister, who is marrying the most eligible bachelor in the neighbourhood: Constable Venu, an expert thrasher of suspects and son of that wealthy black-marketer of supplies, Ration Raaman. But Babu’s mind is otherwise occupied… with thoughts of a face as rounded as a Malgova mango, of an oiled plait as thick as the ropes used to tie the fishing boats, of eyes that sparkle like the sea on a sunlit morn… 

As Geetha and Babu’s closely linked but widely divergent lives intersect, both are about to lose some of the blissful ignorance and innocence of childhood. Charmingly quirky and often laugh-out-loud hilarious, Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth gently explores the themes of growing up, loss of innocence and the intimate yet aloof nature of upstairs-downstairs relationships.

General Thoughts: I read the premise and I was sold. 80s nostalgia is my kryptonite. I just can't resist a book or movie with the 80s woven in the mix.

Things I Liked: 

1. The writing was wonderful. Evocative of the place and the people and the era in which it was set. I found the writing smooth and filled with a subtle yet constant mirth and humour. It was a pleasure reading this book and sinking into this world.

2. Nostalgia is my main jam. I am a nostalgia struck girl living in today's fast paced world, so any slice of nostalgia warms my heart. This book set in the summer in a small town in Kerala was everything I could ask for. Summer holidays was a sacred time. I grew up in Bombay in the 90s, far away from my 'native place' aka Bengal and far-far away from any family. I literally had no family in Bombay and I only got to see my extended family once every year. A two day journey took us from Bombay to Calcutta and those journeys and the 3 months that followed were some of the happiest times in my life. This book reminded me of that time and any book that manages to rekindle those memories is always a good book in books!

3. The book has a theme of 'upstairs and downstairs'- 'masters and servant'. In this case the Nairs and the family of Kannan and Sundarikutty. A good juxtaposition of the haves and slightly have nots. Of old money and new money. I liked how we saw the changing of fortunes of lower middle class folks due to the promise of 'The Gulf' and it's riches.

4. I really liked Geetha. She is at that tricky age between childhood and impending semi-adulthood. I love how real and human and relatable she was. She didn't quite fit in with her beloved cousins anymore and she sees things around her but doesn't fully understand the nuanced meanings behind them. I love seeing her spending time with the servants of the house, especially the bond she forms with Babu and Kamala.

5. Sundarikutty and family were also interesting to get to know. They are so focused on getting their not-so-eligible daughter married. All the work and camouflage and negotiating that goes into a big fat Indian wedding. All of these elements came alive in this book.

6. There were so many wonderful and layered characters in this book that leapt out of the pages and seemed so real.

Kamala-- at first comes across as a spunky and independent girl who feels some resentment against Sundarikutty. But as the book progresses she comes across as more grey with some serious ill feelings towards Bindu and even tries to get her wedding called off.

Babu-- struck in the throes of first love. Babu is so well crafted and I found myself rooting for him.

Geetha's grandfather-- we don't see a lot of him, just glimpses of his kindness. He is adorable and loving and so generous with the people in the village. I wish we saw more of him in the book.

7. The book alternates between chapters in the Nair household and the on goings at Sundarikutty's home. This kept the pace going and had me flipping pages to see what these characters were upto.

8. I think book works well for both adult readers and even young adult readers, given the protagonist is a young adult.

Things I Didn't Like: 

1. My main grouse with the book is that it ended in such a huff. It seemed like someone told the author to quickly wrap things up and she did just that. One minute we are at Bindu's wedding and by the next paragraph we were years in the future. It was so rushed and unsatisfying, this especially irked me because the book does drag on in the middle and yet the ending was needlessly rushed.

2. Nothing really happens in this book. Like nothing overly dramatic really takes place and while I was OK with it and just reading about a summer holiday but I can see some people getting a little bored in this book. So beware.

3. There was so much going on in the Nair household-- an eccentric brilliant scientist who is now unemployed and isolated, an inappropriate affair within relations, a cheating much drama just under the surface yet none of this was explored.

4. There was so much more of Sundarikutty and her shenanigans in this book vs. the Nairs. I just wished we had an equal weightage given to both households.

Rating: 3.5/5

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