The House of Blue Mangoes: A Novel

( 3 )


In 1899, in the south Indian village of Chevathar, Solomon Dorai is contemplating the imminent destruction of his world and everything he holds dear. As the thalaivar, or headman, of Chevathar, he seeks to preserve the village from both catastrophe and change, and the decisions he makes will mark his family for generations to come.

A gripping family chronicle, The House of Blue Mangoes spans nearly half a century and three generations of the Dorai family as they search for their...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$12.75 price
(Save 8%)$13.99 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (32) from $1.99   
  • New (6) from $1.99   
  • Used (26) from $1.99   
Sending request ...


In 1899, in the south Indian village of Chevathar, Solomon Dorai is contemplating the imminent destruction of his world and everything he holds dear. As the thalaivar, or headman, of Chevathar, he seeks to preserve the village from both catastrophe and change, and the decisions he makes will mark his family for generations to come.

A gripping family chronicle, The House of Blue Mangoes spans nearly half a century and three generations of the Dorai family as they search for their place in a rapidly changing society. The novel brings vividly to life a small corner of India, while offering a stark indictment of colonialism and reflecting with great poignancy on the inexorable social transformations of the subcontinent.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Seattle Times
“Riveting … thrilling … exploding with brilliant, polished passages.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“The book is huge in scope but intimate in detail . . . there are some magnificent set pieces”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Page-turning readability … manifests the graces and attractions of a lost time.”
Baltimore Sun
“Lush prose … [Davidar] tells a fine, true, accurate tale with vividness and verve.”
“Lush, densely detailed, sweeping family saga … a tale of grand scope.”
London Times
“The House of Blue Mangoes is a perfect body of work, honed and polished to a high gloss”
Time Magazine
"Lush, densely detailed, sweeping family saga … a tale of grand scope."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thoroughly engrossing in its take on the recent history of the Indian subcontinent, Davidar's rich debut follows three generations of a wealthy, non-Brahmin Christian family as they struggle to preserve tradition and rise to the challenge of change. The Dorai family's livelihood comes from their groves of mango trees bearing a rare variety of the succulent fruit. In 1899, patriarch Solomon Dorai, thalaivar (headman) of the village of Chevathar, in Kerala, faces a threat to his leadership when caste and tribal acrimony explode into violence. Later, one of Solomon's sons becomes involved in the Gandhi-led struggle to gain independence from Britain. The other son grows rich on a patent medicine to lighten dark skin, and eventually revitalizes his family's presence in Chevathar by building a mansion he calls the house of blue mangoes. Solomon's grandchildren go through WWII and the twilight of the Raj. This could be the stuff of potboilers, but Davidar writes with an ironic, sympathetic appreciation of the religious and historical forces binding the Indian people. His understanding of the psychological limitations and moral complexities of his characters in a country ruled by occupying powers distinguishes his narrative. The characters' lives change as the social injustice of the caste system slowly wanes, while the class distinctions between "pure" Indian and mixed-blood Anglo-Indians grow more tenacious. Although Davidar's prose often achieves lyrical beauty, his attempt to engage the reader in such cultural embroidery as how to brew a perfect cup of tea sometimes results in slow passages and didactic asides. Yet while it lacks the visceral bite of Mistry's A Fine Balance or Sharma's An Obedient Father, the novel offers a sweeping and generous view of India's fractured history. Agent, Nicole Aragi. 15-city NPR campaign; 5-city author tour. (Mar. 10) FYI: As publisher of Penguin Books India, Davidar has issued work by Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and Rohinton Mistry. He wrote this book to "capture... memories that I have always cherished." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Spanning the years 1899 to 1947, this family saga the fiction debut of Penguin India publisher Davidar follows the lives of the Dorai family in India. It opens with patriarch Solomon Dorai, who is also the headman of the south Indian village of Chevathar. Solomon is worried by the trouble brewing in the small town as different castes go to battle. Tragedy does erupt, and the story continues with Solomon's two sons, Aaron and Daniel. Aaron is a young hothead who leaves his family behind and gets involved with the nascent Indian independence movement. Daniel, the more obedient son, becomes a doctor, marries, and eventually returns to Chevathar to reunite the Dorai clan. The final part follows Daniel's son, Kannan, as he breaks with tradition in his marriage choice and career as a tea planter. Davidar brings to life early 20th-century India with his vivid details of cuisine, weddings, epic tales, travel, and gender roles and his filtering of world events through the characters' experiences. Though the flow of the narrative is uneven at times, the Dorais and their exploits make for interesting reading. For public libraries where Indian literature is popular. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/01.] Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An epic sweep and several strikingly imagined characters are the most impressive features of this nevertheless uneven debut: an ambitious three-generational saga that embraces the early 20th-century history of the Indian subcontinent, Gandhi's pacifist revolution, and the collapse of the British Raj. In a letter to the reader, Davidar (publisher of Penguin Books India) acknowledges the inspiration of Garcia Marquez, Rushdie, and several contemporary Indian-born writers, including Rohinton Mistry and Arundhati Roy. In fact there's a magical-realist feel to the novel's long opening section, which depicts the lingering feud between rival patriarchs Solomon Dorai (owner of a grove that produces uniquely succulent mangoes) and Muthu Vedhar, a feud that eventually destroys the river village of Chevathar. Its sequences move swiftly whenever Davidar concentrates on Chevathar's conflicted populace, but becomes turgid when excess exposition and background detail are attached to characters' (mostly Solomon's) thoughts. Things improve as Solomon's sons Aaron and Daniel attain maturity, the former as a handsome extrovert involved in revolutionary politics, the latter as a physician who prospers as the inventor of "Moonwhite Thylam," a medication that promises to lighten dark skins. Davidar handles the passing of years skillfully, and the story segues smoothly into an extended focus on Daniel's son Kannan, a Western-educated idealist who defies his imperious father by marrying a woman deemed unsuitable, and working on a tea plantation in the hill country of Pulimed. The closing pages observe increasing tensions among English colonials and various Indian nationalists, and climax with a stingingly ironicaccount of Kannan's pursuit of a man-eating tiger, in the equally dangerous company of a renegade white hunter. A lavish tale that will evoke memories of such other disparate predecessors as Forster's A Passage to India and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. Readers who persevere through its intermittent tedious passages will be generously rewarded.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060936785
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/4/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 918,185
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

David Davidar began his career in Journalism and now works In publishing. He is married and lives in New Delhli.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Spring 1899. As the ordinary violence of dawn sweeps across the lower Coromandel coast, a sprawling village comes into view. The turbulent sky excepted, everything about it is tranquil. Away to the west, a great headland, thickly maned with coconut palms, juts into the sea, partially enclosing a deserted beach on which long slow swells, clear and smooth as glass, break with scarcely a sound. Beyond the beach, the waters of an estuary reflect the rage of colour overhead. This is where the Chevathar, the country's southernmost river and the source of the village's name, prepares for its final run to the sea.

On a bluff overlooking the estuary, almost hidden by coconut palms, is a small church. From there, the village straggles upriver for about a mile and a half, ending at the bridge that connects it to the town of Meenakshikoil on the opposite bank.

Through the village runs a narrow tarred road that stands out like a fresh scar on the red soil. The road connects all Chevathar's major landmarks: the Vedhar quarter to the north, the ruins of an eighteenth-century mud fort, Vakeel Perumal's two-storey house with its bone-white walls, the Amman and the Murugan temples, and on a slight elevation, the house of the thalaivar, Solomon Dorai, barely visible behind a fringe of casuarina trees and coconut palms. Surrounding the walls of the Big House, as it is known, are several trees that aren't usually seen in the area — a tall umbrella-shaped rain tree, a breadfruit tree with leaves that explode in green star-shaped clusters and many jackfruit trees laden with heavy, spiky fruitthat spring directly from the trunk. These are the result of the labours of Charity Dorai, who does not come from these parts. In an effort to allay her homesickness she began planting trees from her homeland. Twenty years later they have altered the treescape of Chevathar.

Down to the river from the Big House tumble groves of Chevathar Neelam, a rare hybrid of a mango native to the south. The trees are astonishingly beautiful, the fruit glinting blue against the dark green leaves. The locals will tell you that the Chevathar Neelam, which has made the Dorai name famous throughout the district, is so sweet that after you've eaten one you cannot taste sugar for at least three days. So the locals say.

The rest of the village is quickly described. More coconut palms, the paracheri to the southwest, a few shops by the bridge over the Chevathar river, the huts of the Andavar tenant farmers close to the road, and a dozen or so wells and tanks that raise blind glittering eyes to the morning light.

The villagers rise early, but as it's some way yet before the fields are to be prepared for the transplanting of rice, the men are not up and about. Most of the women have risen before dawn and are racing to finish their household chores. Today the village celebrates the Pangunni Uthiram festival and they're hoping to snatch a few minutes at the festive market that's being assembled, bright and tawdry, by the walls of the Murugan temple.

Movement on the tarred road. Two girls, one thirteen and soon to be married, the other a year younger, are on their way to the fair. They are dressed in their best clothes, the older girl in a violet half-sari, jasmine in her well-oiled and plaited hair, her cousin in a garish pink skirt. Their foreheads are adorned with sandalwood paste, vibhuti and kumkumam from the Amman temple where they worshipped before dayfall. They walk quickly, even though they're very early, their feet light on the deliciously cool road, eager to get to the market. The older girl has been given four annas to spend by her mother. It's a small sum but it's more money than Valli has ever had before and she can barely contain her excitement at what she might be able to buy with it. Bangles? Earrings? Silk for a blouse perhaps, or might that be too expensive? Parvathi hurries to keep up with her cousin.

The girls pass a grey outcrop of granite polished by wind and rain to a smooth rounded shape that resembles the knobbly forehead of an elephant. Anaikal, as it is called, is popular with children playing hide-and-seek but they barely register this most familiar of sights as they hurry onwards. They enter a short stretch lined with banyan trees beyond which is the path that leads to the fair.

And then the younger girl notices them. 'Akka,' she says, but the remark is unnecessary for Valli has also seen the four young men lounging under the big tamarind tree that shades Vakeel Perumal's house. The acute peripheral vision of the two girls, shared by every woman under the age of forty in the small towns and villages of the hinterland, is geared towards noticing just one thing: men. Sometimes it is exercised to give them pleasure as they flirt expertly even with eyes cast down. But more often than not it is used to spot danger. No young or even middle-aged woman is safe from the slyly outstretched male arm that seeks to brush and feel up, the crude insult, the lascivious eye, and so they learn early to take evasive action before things become unpleasant.

The two girls quickly assess the situation. The men are about fifty yards away and do not appear threatening. Still, there is no one about. Every instinct tells them to turn and retreat to the safety of their houses. But the promise of the new bangles is too strong. After all, just a few yards more and they'll be on the dirt path which will take them to the market grounds.

The men under the tamarind tree begin to move towards them and now the...

The House of Blue Mangoes. Copyright © by David Davidar. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Introduction It is hard to imagine a more challenging and complex country for the British Empire to have chosen for colonization than India. To the Western eye, India is a dizzying mosaic of flavors, sights, smells, and sounds. There are hundreds of different dialects and religious figures; thousands of caste and tribal divisions; a variegated geography that boasts tremendous rainstorms, stupefying heat, and impenetrable forests. There are as many ways to make fish biryani as there are women preparing it. And of course there are the infinite varieties of mango. When we are first introduced to the fictional province of Chevathar, the British occupation of India is firmly established. Western influences have had their way in the country: in its churches and government offices, in the homes and in the minds of the Indian people themselves. But, as the saying goes, the natives are getting restless -- with their colonizers and with each other. In a country whose native faith honors the changing nature of the world, restlessness is a given. But the violence with which India's castes confront one another is devastating. On the eve of the new millennium, India's citizens -- white and native -- regard each other with suspicion, jealousy, and fear. In The House of Blue Mangoes David Davidar shows us how one family copes with its country's divisiveness as it lurches forward into history. At first, under the guidance of Solomon, the Dorai family seems to have settled into a comfortable compromise between Indian culture and English rule. But Solomon cannot survive the ages-old rivalries that pit one clan against each other. Rather than compromising his owninherited position of power, he dies defending a defenseless cause. After Solomon's death, the family is torn apart as Aaron becomes involved in a violent campaign for independence and Daniel pursues a career in medicine. Each son, in his own way, will greatly influence his family and his country. Aaron's ascetic devotion to independence transforms him into a criminal and a hero. Daniel's alchemic talent with native plants results in a medicine that convinces Indians that they can look like the English. Each son will die having accomplished much, but mourning the fact that he didn't do enough. By the time the third generation of Dorai comes to maturity, India's struggle for independence has created a palpable strain on daily life. Daniel's son, Kannan, much to his father's distress, marries an Anglo-Indian woman and leaves Chevathar to help manage an English tea plantation. There he strives to be accepted by English society, even as he knows they regard him as second-rate. When a rash of killings throws suspicion upon Kannan, he resolves to prove his worthiness once and for all. But a harrowing encounter with a man-eating tiger and a disillusioned British officer convince him that he belongs in Chevathar, and he returns to run the family compound his father established in honor of what his father lost. Davidar concludes his novel with poignant echoes of its opening scenes. Although India, the country, has changed and will continue to change in ways even Kannan cannot imagine, there is much that endures: the force and beauty of nature, the importance of family, and the peace that comes from understanding one's own impermanence. As he welcomes us into the story of the Dorai clan -- and a new day dawning upon a world both glorious and ominous -- so Davidar leaves us with a strong impression of India's contradictory nature: conquerors may come and go; feuds and loyalties may divide and unite; droughts, disease, and misfortune will give way to years of fertility, health, and wealth. But the sun will continue to rise, bringing with it the problems, pleasures, and promise of a new day. Questions for Discussion
  • The first scene in the novel -- the rape of a young girl -- takes place on the tarred road that runs "like a fresh scar" through the village of Chevathar. Solomon Dorai blames the road itself for the crime, as well as for other unrest plaguing his village. What does this road represent? What other roads figure prominently in the novel, and why?
  • After the rape, Solomon's wife, Charity, visits the family of the girl who was raped, to see if there is anything she can do to help. But, as she discovers, "There's nothing [she] can do…There was no terrible spill of anger here, none of the fury that drove the mythical Kannagi to burn up her tormentors. This was different, more practical, perhaps the only way left to the women of the village. There was good and evil, and both were necessary to keep the world in balance -- you raged against fate only when you didn't understand. It was best to accept and go on." (40-41) What do you think of this philosophy? Why doesn't it work for Aaron? To what extent do Daniel and his son, Kannan, rage against their own fates?
  • How do Solomon, his sons Daniel and Aaron, and his grandson Kannan each represent their respective generations with regard to culture and political climate? How does each character precipitate change in his family, and in the Dorai clan?
  • Likewise, how do Charity, Rachel, and Helen represent their respective generations? In a country that denies women many of the freedoms enjoyed by men, what kinds of influence do these women wield? How do they obtain their power?
  • Throughout The House of Blue Mangoes Davidar reminds us -- in stunning detail -- of India's natural beauty and fierce climate. What role does nature play in the novel? What kinds of struggles do the characters wage against India's natural forces?
  • Like many other Indian clans, the Dorai family blends Hindu and Christian traditions. What are some of the results of this fusion? How does religion influence their lives? Can you think of ways in which your own religious beliefs reflect your family history and your environment?
  • Daniel's interest in siddah medicine leads him to a career as a physician, but he makes his fortune selling the popular skin-whitening cream he created. What does Daniel's success say about the British influence in India? How does his life embody both cultures?
  • Why is the scene in which Kannan hunts the tiger with Harrison important to the novel? Why do you think Harrison let Kannan live? Why did the incident convince Kannan that he needed to return to Chevathar?
  • How does Davidar use the mango as a metaphor for India and for the Dorai family?
  • Compare the novel's portrayal of Solomon in the first few pages with the final scene in which Kannan contemplates a mango he has just picked from the grove in Chevathar. How has Chevathar changed, and how has it remained the same? How do these scenes embody the novel's major themes?
  • Based on the novel's version of historical events, do you think India would have been better off without English rule? Give examples that support either argument. About the Author: David Davidar is the publisher of Penguin India. The House of Blue Mangoes is his first novel. He lives in New Dehli.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2006

    wanna eat mongoes

    Although it is a while ago I read this book then it is still one of those books that fascinates and one thinks back on with delight. The story was so enticing and wellwritten and my mouth was often watering to taste all these wonderful mangoes described, but also to visit this part of the World and get to know their culture even more. It is a must read for all those people who like Chinese family stories and who just enjoys a wonderful story

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2002

    Lush Saga

    Ever been to India, specifically Southern India, a world unto itself. Now you don't need to go there, especially if you live on the West Coast, as I do, simply buy yourself a copy of this book. Some books draw you, no suck you into their world, and this is what The House of Blue Mangoes does. It takes you to a land of violent sunsets, extraordinary colours and sights, luscious fruit (the blue mango of the title being just one) and memorable people. The Dorais, the family which steers the narrative through complex and rumbustious times in the subcontinent, are very well drawn, and I kind of identified with many of the things they go through. Visit them and their country, you won't be disappointed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)