Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Grammarian by Annapurna Potluri

In the fall of 1911, Alexandre Lautens, an ambitious French philologist, sweeps into a remote part of India to study the Telugu language. Hosted by a local wealthy landowner and his family, Lautens arrives at a moment of change for the Adivis: Mohini, the younger and strikingly beautiful daughter is about to marry, an act which will inevitably condemn her older sister, who suffers from being plain and disfigured, to spinsterhood. Intellectually curious by nature, the elder sister Anjali is beguiled by Lautens, and as they find an intimacy within language, an unexpected relationship develops. After Anjali confesses that her disfigurement – a lasting injury from polio – has kept her from swimming since her childhood, Lautens surprises her with a trip to the beach. Regardless of what might have happened between them, Adivi is outraged when he hears word of their outing. Thinking his daughter a tramp and Lautens a predator, both are swiftly kicked out, left to fend for themselves—separately—as they try to navigate what really happened. Lautens returns to France, never sure if he should have remained part of Anjali’s life. Anjali flees too, seeking a life of political activism she never knew possible. Despite a life brimming with independence and bravery, Anjali never loses sight of the man who, however briefly, filled her heart.

For those who like lush foreign settings, engaging prose, and a poignant story, The Grammarian by Annapurna Potluri definitely delivers. From its opening pages, the flow of the writing made the story visually come alive in my mind. Cultural values pertaining to beauty and non-beauty enhanced the characterization of the poor, afflicted, Anjali, a young woman disfigured from polio at an early age. Through the author’s rich prose, I could empathize with Anjali’s plight and feel her lingering sadness.

When a simple act of kindness destroys Anjali’s life, and she and Lautens are banished from the Adivi home, the story truly becomes affecting and we are shown the heroine’s courage and the hero’s loss.
This was a lovely debut novel from a talented writer and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. This is definitely a book to savour.

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