Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Village by the Sea

Desai, Anita. The Village by the Sea
April 16th 2019 by NYRB Kids (first published 1982)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Lila and Hari live in a small village in India. Their mother is very ill and never gets out of bed, and their father has had to sell his boat. He now uses the little money they bring in to get drunk on toddy every night. Lila takes care of the house, and Hari tries to earn a little money doing odd jobs. They do manage to send their two younger sisters to school. When a factory is set to be built in their area, Hari at first thinks that it will be a good thing, and provide him with a job, but then starts to wonder. Rich people from Bombat, the deSilvas, often come to stay at their house near the beach and hire Lila and Hari to do small jobs; Mr. deSilva tells Hari that if he is ever in Bombay, he will hire him to be a caretaker. When a group protesting the factory decides to go to Bombay, Hari goes as well. At about this time, the mother has a very high fever, and Lila asks the deSilvas to take her to the hospital. They do, and even kindly offer to pay for the medicine. The mother is severely anemic and generally run down, so an extended stay in the hospital is indicated. The father stays as well, and stops drinking. Hari finds the deSilvas aren't in Bombay, and decides to go home after working in very bad conditions at a restaurant, although he does meet very nice people. Although it looks like the factory will destroy the environment around the town, Hari and Lila try to appreciate their somewhat improved lives and hope for the best for the future.
Strengths: The details of daily life in rural India, and some of the problems faced by people in small villages, are all very well described. The writing is very rich with details, and shows a clear love of the environment, despite its sadness. I love books set in other countries, especially India, and wish there were more to share with my students.
Weaknesses: This was crushingly sad, and when something happened to the children's dog, I just about stopped reading! Because this was first published 37 years ago, I felt there needed to be a note of explanation with it. Is life still like this in India? Have things changed? In towns where factories were built, is life better or worse? Since I don't know the answers to these questions, I can't tell my students whether this should be considered historical fiction, or whether it is still an accurate depiction of life in rural India.
What I really think: This is available only in a paperback version, so I think I'll pass and recommend Padma Venkatraman's The Bridge Home or Saeed's Amal Unbound instead.

Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment