This book is about four generations of a family in Malaysia. Lakshmi, from Ceylon, is duped into marrying Ayah. He portrays himself as a wealthy man. But everything is an illusion even down to the borrowed gold watch. Ayah is a civil servant who while kindly and loving is a plodding unintelligent man. Lakshmi has 6 children by the time she is nineteen. She makes friends with the Chinese servant girl next door, Mui Tsai. Mui is forced to have sex with her master and each child is given to a different wife.
This story weaves a tale during the Japanese occupation and beyond. As weak as Ayah is, Lakshmi is a strong and formidable matriarch. Her first two children are twins, Lakshmnan and Mohini. Lakshmi must keep Mohini save from the Japanese and the torture they will submit Mokini to if they find her. There is tradegy upon tradegy and she faces each challenge and keeps on going.
The prose in the book is absolutely amazing. The description of the Japanese occupation is hideous. The culture, pre-war and after is described. Children with beauty and lightness of skin colour are highly valued.
The story is told from the viewpoint of each of the characters. I found this story very compelling. So compelling, I just could not put the book down.
First Line: "I was born in Ceylon in 1916, at a time when spirits walked the earth just like people, before the glare of electricity and the roar of civilization has frightened them away into the concealed hearts of forests."