Rave Reviews Log: Historical Fiction

December 17, 2007

Keeping Corner

By Kashmira Sheth
Era: 1918 India
Rating: 4 1/4 stars
Reviewed by Noelle

This is one of those great books that lets you glimpse a world completely unlike your own. Set during the time when Gandhi was making waves for India to free herself from British rule, Leela is a 12 year old girl living in a small town. She is of the highest caste, brahman, was engaged at age 2 and married at age 9. Now she is waiting for her anu, a ceremony when she will finally go to live with her husband at his family's home. But before that happens, tragedy strikes, and her husband dies. For the next year, Leela must "keep corner," meaning she must not leave her family's house. As a brahman widow, she must keep her head shaved, wear brown, not ever remarry, and she is basically considered bad luck and shunned by the rest of the community. Leela despairs for her life as she knows it is over, and there seems to be no hope or future. Then her older brother, Kanubhai, helps arrange tutoring for Leela. Her tutor encourages Leela to learn what is happening in the world, where Gandhi advocates for equality between men and women, and Kanubhai wants her to move to the big city to continue going to school. But in a small town where custom has always held sway, can Leela take steps to change her destiny? Readers will be fascinated by the customs, the sense of family, and the history that unfolds during Leela's story, and be taken aback at the injustices she suffers through no fault of her own. A strong, interesting slice of historical fiction, based on the life of the author's great aunt.