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Amla Mater, a memoir by Devi Menon is every bit as nostalgia inducing and mouth-watering as the title of this review suggests. Do look it up!
Lovingly made home-made pickles, trees from childhood that became spaceships and the magic faraway tree as and when your imagination soared, a neighbour-cum-best friend who’s family took you in as another member – if any of these strike a chord with you, Devi Menon’s sweetly written and illustrated memoir is up your alley.
Published by New York-based Yali Publications, an independent publisher devoted to South Asian themes, this debut graphic novel is a delightful little book for you to devour on a lazy day and is one you will want to come back to, if you hit a rough reading patch. Alternating between present and past, the story captures an immigrant woman’s pregnancy in London, evocatively and with all the fears, anxiety, excitement and joy that accompanies a pregnancy. The feverish countdown to the birth of the baby is told alongside the narration of a ten-week ritual of the making of a favourite gooseberry pickle.
The longing for a lost friendship runs through the book and without seemingly overtly saccharine, there is a graceful reunion in the end, with both the original pickle as well as the old friend.
I particularly enjoyed Menon’s illustrations and the nuggets of rural Kerala, and the imagery it evoked of the socio-cultural mores of the times from Mili’s (the protagonist) childhood- the sprawling houses, the joint families, the rigid social customs and the agricultural livelihoods.
Descriptive writing and the simple pencil sketches that bring alive scenes of a variety of places – rush-hour commuters’ London, paying guest accommodation at an orthodox household in Chennai, a job at an IT park in Bangalore and the protagonist’s suburban London flat- the author has no trouble in gracefully narrating these scenes through her illustrations and easily-relatable writing. Sample this: ‘There is a peculiar sense of wellbeing that you only get from watching reality shows and commiserating with disillusioned colleagues’.
While characters like Padma Paati, the protagonist’s loving yet inquisitive landlord in Chennai and Nandini, her friend from Bangalore, keep flitting in and out of the book, the story of how she fell in love and married the baker is very well done through a series of panels that spoke of the joys of an inter-cultural union. As a reader, I only wished that the baker’s character and some other details were better fleshed out. However, the pristine, unpretentious writing that had me running to the amla pickle in my fridge, will call out to you, if you have homes across the world, or are trying to find one.
If you’d like to pick up Amla Mater by Devi Menon, use our affiliate links: at Amazon India, and at Amazon US. You can also buy it here.
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Top image via Goodreads and book cover via Amazon
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