The Grammarian: A Novel

The Grammarian: A Novel

4.6 3
by Annapurna Potluri
     
 

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In the fall of 1911, Alexandre Lautens, an ambitious French philologist, sweeps into a remote part of India to study the Telugu language. Hosted by a local wealthy landowner and his family, Lautens arrives at a moment of change for the Adivis: Mohini, the younger and strikingly beautiful daughter is about to marry, an act which will inevitably condem her older

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Overview

In the fall of 1911, Alexandre Lautens, an ambitious French philologist, sweeps into a remote part of India to study the Telugu language. Hosted by a local wealthy landowner and his family, Lautens arrives at a moment of change for the Adivis: Mohini, the younger and strikingly beautiful daughter is about to marry, an act which will inevitably condem her older sister, who suffers from being plain and disfigured, to spinsterhood.

Intellectually curious by nature, the elder sister Anjali is beguiled by Lautens, and as they find an intimacy within language, an unexpected relationship develops. After Anjali confesses that her disfigurement – a lasting injury from polio – has kept her from swimming since her childhood, Lautens surprises her with a trip to the beach. Regardless of what might have happened between them, Adivi is outraged when he hears word of their outing. Thinking his daughter a tramp and Lautens a predator, both are swiftly kicked out, left to fend for themselves—separately—as they try to navigate what really happened.

Lautens returns to France, never sure if he should have remained part of Anjali’s life. Anjali flees too, seeking a life of political activism she never knew possible. Despite a life brimming with independence and bravery, Anjali never loses sight of the man who, however briefly, filled her heart.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Potluri's stunning debut novel, set in India as the 20th century dawns, follows the journey of French linguist, Alexandre Lautens, as he travels to the English dominated south to complete a first-of-its-kind grammar of Telugu, a language less well-known to the West than Hindi, and which because of its musical qualities is known as the "Italian of the East." Lautens gets a unique glimpse into upper class Indian life when he's invited to stay with the anglophilic Adivi family at their palatial home, complete with lower caste servants who attend to Lauten's every want. Lautens befriends Adivi's mother, the frank and wise Kanakadurga, who lives with the family, as well as Adivi's intelligent and less beautiful older daughter, Anjali, whose leg has been withered by polio, but who takes an interest in helping Lautens with his work. A lopsided romance blooms, leaving both Lautens and Anjali in a precarious position, augmented by Anjali's interest in nationalist activism. Potluri's description of the sounds and grammar of Telugu, as well as her sensual description of domestic elements, suffuse the text with richness, while her gorgeous portrayal of south Indian culture remains firmly grounded: the ideal and beautiful sharing close quarters with the grotesque and problematic.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
In 1911 Alexandre Lautens, a French scholar of linguistics, voyages to the eastern Indian coastline to study the Telugu language in hopes of publishing a textbook. He boards with the wealthy Adivi family and develops a bond with the older daughter Anjali, a polio survivor. When Alexandre helps Anjali fulfill a childhood wish, this brief moment of heroism collides with cultural differences that put the family's reputation at stake. Alexandre is forced to leave Anjali and the Adivi home behind. The two protagonists go on to lead extraordinary lives, but their thwarted relationship remains a source of both sorrow and joy. VERDICT Although the occasional jumps forward and back in time make the historical elements somewhat difficult to follow, the characters are fully developed and their emotions heartfelt. Debut author Potluri's love of language is evident as rich descriptions overflow onto well-written pages. Literary fiction lovers will revel in the descriptive scenes that contain underlying messages of love and loyalty.—Andrea Brooks, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights
From the Publisher

Praise for The Grammarian

"[A] stunning debut novel… Potluri's description of the sounds and grammar of Telugu, as well as her sensual description of domestic elements, suffuse the text with richness, while her gorgeous portrayal of south Indian culture remains firmly grounded: the ideal and beautiful sharing close quarters with the grotesque and problematic."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Potluri's love of language is evident as rich descriptions overflow onto well-written pages. Literary fiction lovers will revel in the descriptive scenes that contain underlying messages of love and loyalty." —Library Journal

"A richly drawn portrait of the chaos and the color of imperial India—a debut novel that spans more than half a century, three continents and the unreachable distance between two people." —Shelf Awareness

"The Grammarian is a marvelously written novel, filled with lovely, atmospheric descriptions of India and of the life Alexandre lives with his wealthy hosts…exquisite writing…seductive storytelling. One of the year’s best. Most highly recommended."—Historical Novel Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619021020
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
02/12/2013
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.96(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt


Excerpt from The Grammarian

Anjali ran her fingertips along the smooth edges of the tissue paper inside, and lifted up the scent of sandalwood into the air; Matthieu propped his elbows on his knees, his eyebrows high on his forehead like a youngster in anticipation. She thought for a moment of all the boxes that in her young mind she had hoped for from Dr. Lautens after he left India: boxes of the chocolates he had described, postcards, handmade French lace, love letters. She lifted up, out of familiar fuchsia crepe paper, her grandmother’s pearl necklace with the ruby pendant, the earrings with the ruby flower and the pearl flourish. And now she felt the full sorrow of missing on Earth those whom she loved most in this world.

Meet the Author


Annapurna Potluri was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York to attend New York University where she studied comparative literature and linguistics. She then earned an MPhil in theoretical linguistics from Cambridge University. She has lived in Italy and India and is currently working at the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.

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