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Evening Is the Whole Day

Evening Is the Whole Day

3.7 8
by Preeta Samarasan

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Set in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces us to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.

When Chellam, the family’s rubber-plantation-bred servant girl, is dismissed for unnamed crimes, her banishment is the latest in a series of recent, precipitous


Set in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces us to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.

When Chellam, the family’s rubber-plantation-bred servant girl, is dismissed for unnamed crimes, her banishment is the latest in a series of recent, precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha’s life. A few short weeks before, Aasha’s grandmother Paati passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister, Uma, departed for Columbia University—leaving Aasha alone to cope with her mostly absent father, her bitter mother, and her imperturbable older brother.

Beginning with Aasha’s grandfather’s ascension from Indian coolie to illustrious resident of the Big House on Kingfisher Lane, and going on to tell the story of how Appa, the family’s Oxford-educated patriarch, courted Amma, the humble girl next door, Evening Is the Whole Day moves gracefully backward and forward in time to answer the many questions that haunt the family: What was Chellam’s unforgivable crime? Why was Uma so intent on leaving? How and why did Paati die? What did Aasha see? And, underscoring all of these mysteries: What ultimately became of Appa’s once-grand dreams for his family and his country?

Sweeping in scope, sumptuously lyrical, and masterfully constructed, Evening Is the Whole Day offers an unflinching look at relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, the wealthy and the poor, a country and its citizens—and the ways in which each sometimes fails the other. Illuminating in heartbreaking detail one Indian immigrant family’s secrets and lies while exposing the complex underbelly of Malaysia itself, Preeta Samarasan’s debut is a mesmerizing and vital achievement sure to earn her a place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Zadie Smith.

Editorial Reviews

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Atonement comes to Malaysia in this masterfully constructed tale of the prosperous Rajasekharan family. One unbearably hot September morning, the family's servant girl, Chellam, is sent packing as a result of an unnamed crime. In her wake, she leaves Aasha, a six-year-old girl haunted by ghosts, who has recently suffered two additional losses: the departure of her older sister to college in the United States, and the death of her grandmother.

Circling back and forth through time to reveal the history of a family and a land divided, Evening Is the Whole Day tracks the fortunes of one Indian immigrant family, and the secrets and lies that bind them together and force them apart. It also illuminates the span of a life -- a life that acquires weight and momentum and becomes much more than a series of distractions and misfortunes; a life that holds out the possibility that anything can happen.

In her first novel, Samarasan displays a prodigious gift for lyrical narration, complex characterization, and dramatic breadth of vision. (Fall 2008 Selection)
Allegra Goodman
Deftly switching points of view, and flitting backward and forward in time, Samarasan constructs a narrative that opens outward even as it deepens, revealing the wounds and secrets within each character…even if the seams don't match perfectly, Samarasan's fabric is gorgeous. Her ambitious spiraling plot, her richly embroidered prose, her sense of place, and her psychological acuity are stunning. Readers, responding to the setting, will immediately compare her to Kiran Desai. I think Samarasan's dialogue and description are reminiscent of Eudora Welty, another woman who knew how to write about family and race and class and secrets and heat.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Set on the outskirts of Ipoh in Malaysia, Samarasan's impressive debut chronicles another bad year in the Big House on Kingfisher Lane. With the death of Paati, the grandmother, and the disgraceful departure of Chellam, the family's servant girl, the wealthy Rajasekharan family is in shambles. Skillfully jumping from one consciousness to another, Samarasan moves back in time to reveal the secrets that have led to the family's unraveling. Father Raju's dreams have been stifled by his unrealized political ambitions, and his home life is no consolation. Vasanthi, his wife, bristles at reminders of her lower-class roots and wouldn't mind seeing Uma, their oldest daughter, "destroyed by an endless string of disappointments." Uma all but disconnects herself from the family in anticipation of escaping to Columbia University, and her six-year-old sister, Aasha, whose desire to recapture Uma's love is a primary focus of the book, must settle for interactions with a ghost only she can see. There's little familial tenderness, and the few instances of compassion displayed (by Raju's visiting brother) are mistaken as perverse. Though the narrative is occasionally unwieldy or claustrophobic, the language bursts with energy, and Samarasan has a sure hand juggling so many distinct characters. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This beautifully written debut novel revolves around a wealthy Indian family living in modern-day Malaysia. What seems like a simple act-the firing of the servant girl-has greater implications for the family than it could ever have imagined, especially for six-year-old Aasha. Aasha has a secret, one that could devastate not only her family but also the entire community. Samarasan wisely withholds this secret and others, pulling readers in. Because the description of Malaysia and its diverse population is so achingly lyrical, readers will want to slow down to absorb each word; at other times, as when they get caught up in the family drama, they will want to quicken their pace. This book is destined to be highly sought after by fans of Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy. Translation rights have at the time of this writing been sold in 14 territories, and national advertising is planned. Highly recommended for public libraries.
—Marika Zemke

Kirkus Reviews
A complex web of public and private histories shared by an Indian immigrant family is painstakingly examined in the ambitious first novel from Malaysia native Samarasan. The Rajasekharans, heirs to a commercial fortune dominated by a successful rubber plantation, seem blessed. Patriarch Raju is a prominent attorney; his beautiful wife Vasanthi has risen far above her humble origins; their brilliant and beautiful eldest daughter Uma is on her way to a prestigious American university (in 1980, when the story's major actions occur), and her younger brother Suresh and sister Aasha seem gifted and responsible enough to emulate the much-admired Uma. But secrets lurk in the Big House on Kingfisher Lane, where Uma's imminent departure is overshadowed by the suspicious death of her paternal grandmother ("Paati"), as well as the dismissal (for undisclosed reasons) of house servant girl Chellam-whose dirt-poor family provides a counterpoint to the privileged lives of her employers. Six-year-old Aasha communes matter-of-factly with her family's ghosts (including that of the outraged Paati). And Aasha's dreamlike discoveries are deftly paralleled by lengthy flashbacks which reveal-with both considerable skill and wearying overemphasis-guilty burdens borne by the ambitious Raju (who seems to have everything and wants even more); both Vasanthi and Paati, each of whom has overstepped marital boundaries; the ever-embittered Chellam; and-a late-arriving yet crucial character-black-sheep "Uncle Ballroom" (Balu), a pathetic underachiever inhibited by all he knows and cannot reveal. Samarasan has probably attempted too much in this overstuffed debut. But she scores impressively with the creation of anintimate, gossipy omniscient narrative voice that's the perfect vehicle for her slowly unfolding, intricately layered story. Agent: Ayesha Pande/Lyons & Pande

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

Meet the Author

PREETA SAMARASAN was born and raised in Malaysia, but moved to the United States in high-school. She received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and was the recipient of the Asian American Writer’s Workshop/Hyphen Magazine short-story award.

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Evening Is the Whole Day 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
jessie2 More than 1 year ago
I read everything and then quickly resell on Ebay, well this one is a keeper, it holds a spot on my VERY selective bookshelf. This book is so beautifully written it brings tears to your eyes. I kept looking at the author's picture in wonder that anyone could write something so beautiful, so mysterious and so terribly sad. Every single character no matter how despicable on the surface has a poignant back story (poor, poor Chellam). Aasha is the main character and your heart just breaks for her start to finish. I give this book my highest recommendations. I miss reading it, a true test of a memorable book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This sounded like a very interesting book but ended up being an endurance test. The draw of the little girl's ability to see to see ghosts was very minimally featured. This was just another book about a very screwed up and boring family. The narrative parts were fine but did we really need the true to life dialog to get a picture of the culture. I think not. BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book was recommended by NPR, so looked into it. I did not know enough of the Indian words to fully understand each paragraph. So, I had to only focus on the story line, less on the quality of the writing. Sad but understandable story.
jllfromnewyork More than 1 year ago
Tthis is one talented writer why hasnt SHE WRITTEN MORE?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm going to go ahead and call this my favorite novel of the decade. I've never, ever, EVER, believed in characters as deeply as I believe in the inhabitants of The Big House. You know what - forget the decade! This is as good a novel as I know of, and as intimate and moving a reading experience as I've had, and as rich and vivid a world as I¿ve ever read my way into. I don't know if I've ever loved a character as much as I love Aasha. Love though, is not all I feel for this book ¿ and this, I think, is what makes it so seriously, truly, utterly great: it's also unrelentingly painful. It will hurt you. It hurts, even when guided by a loving hand, to look so honestly at the brutality and smallness and meanness of which humanity is capable. It hurts to follow the trails of ruin left by willful blindnesses, shameful prejudices, and faithless underestimations it hurts to watch small mistakes, no matter how innocently or ignorantly perpetrated, result in huge, enveloping, unrescindable sadnesses ¿ but to be able to look at all of this squarely, attentively, and unsparingly to depict it fully, in all its ugly complexity to dwell on the pain, to pick and prod and examine it, to stare into its hideous face with humor and healthy cynicism, but also, somehow, hope ¿ is, I think, the bravest sort of thing a piece of writing can do. I smiled on nearly every page, but never did the novel allow me to indulge the dangerous fantasies of a happy ending ¿ not for everyone, not in a world like ours. oh yeah - and did I mention that it's got absolutely everything else that anyone could possibly want in a novel - mystery, political strife, domestic intrigue, hilarity, a thrilling loop-the-looping structure, and 339 pages of pure, unadulterated dazzling prose. And by the end, as an added bonus, you'll feel like an expert on Malaysian history, politics, and race relaitons. In sum: I friend this book, know or not? Five stars is nowhere near enough.
tamesthetic More than 1 year ago
great book