June 21, 2011

Miss Timmins' School For Girls

"Miss Raswani taught Hindi in an archaic and rigid manner. Everything went in a two-week cycle. On Monday, she read a chapter aloud standing in front of the teacher's table. Then she made the class read it in turns, a paragraph at a time. For Hindi night study we had to learn the first half of the chapter by heart. On Tuesday Raswani would sit ramrod straight at the desk and eye us sternly. "Punita Parikh, first paragraph," she would bark, and Punita would have to stand up and recite it. Wednesday, it was the second half. Thursday the whole chapter once more. Friday was the test. We had to sit down and write the whole chapter. There was no wavering from the text, no need for explanations. This was how the Vedas must have been taught to Brahmin boys in Benares a thousand years ago, and Miss Raswani saw no need to deviate."
I thought this novel would be about teaching. About students and girls, and teachers and principals. In a way, it was. But, it was about much more than that.

There was our heroine, Charulata  Apte, who suffered from a facial birthmark she called her 'blot'. Turning red and itchy, especially when faced with distress, it was something which acted as a barometer for her emotional well-being. Which could not be called happy under even the best of conditions.

For her father shamed the family such that they had to move from relative luxury to an incredibly small apartment where her bedroom was converted from the balcony off of her parents' bedroom. Her mother suffered internally, and then later acted out her pain in a way which almost took her life. And Charu herself went to teach in Miss Timmins' School For Girls, in Panchgani, India.

So many complex personalities made up the faculty and staff of that school. Miss Raswani, whose teaching style you read about in the opening quote. Miss Nelson, the principal with an enormous bottom. And Prince, the young English teacher with whom Charu falls in love.

I never expected a lesbian story, nor a murder, but these are two integral parts to the plot. They are slowly revealed as Charu herself grows up; learning is not only for the girls who are students in the school, but for those who lead them as well. For the adults must figure out what to do with the complicated feelings they have as a result of choices made in their youth. And, there is a murder to solve at the very core.

 Thank you to TLC Book Tours, and Harper publishers, for the opportunity to review this novel which will be released June 21, 2011.

18 comments:

  1. I've had my eye on this one for a while. Yours is the first review I've read and I thank you for sharing your thoughts. :-)

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  2. This sounds marvelous..on my list it goes!

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  3. I think this is the first review I've read of this book and it sounds like it's even better than I expected!

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  4. This is new to me but one I must look out for. I am sure it will be available in Chennai.

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  5. Sounds like a complex and worthwhile read!
    Book Dilettante

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  6. I found this one surprising too, and thought the lesbian love affair was really well dealt with. I too liked how the characters were all fully formed and complex.

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  7. Wonderful review, Bellezza!

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  8. I've been curious about this one. Looking forward to reading it someday:)

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  9. Thanks for your review

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  10. I have seen this book around before but hadn't really realized what it was about. I certainly had no idea that it involved a murder! I am always a sucker when it comes to murder mysteries.

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  11. I like the cover. I also like that this book has many layers to it, beyond teaching. Will look for it in store - hopefully Australia has a similar release date.

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  12. Bellezza, I had seen this book around, but had not idea what it was about. I'm so glad you reviewed it, because now I know I want to read it. This books sounds like such an intriguing read - like you definitely get more from it than you would expect. Love that! Great post!

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  13. The reviews for this are a bit mixed, so I'm curious to know if you really enjoyed it. It's one of those books I could easily buy just for the cover. :)

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  14. This sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review!

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  15. Les, how clever you are with the words "if you really enjoyed it". You know me well enough to see that I told about the book, but never once said, "I'm crazy about it!" Or, anything else along those lines. Because, um, I didn't. I wanted to. I loved the cover. But it went on and on and on, and I'm just not that interested in lesians for another thing. Silly me.

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  16. I originally passed on this book, but have since added it to my wish list. Your review is why; thanks

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  17. It is interesting when a book turns out to be about something completely different than you were expecting it to be.

    I appreciate your review for the tour!

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  18. I wasn't certain what to expect when I started reading this one. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it wasn't just a book about teaching in India. It was so complex but well-plotted and just plain intriguing.

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