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Climbing the Stairs
Cover of Climbing the Stairs
Climbing the Stairs
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During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police,...
During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police,...
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  • During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.

    Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother makes a choice the family cannot condone, and when Raman seems to want more than friendship, Vidkya must question all she has believed in.

    Padma Venkatraman’s debut novel poignantly shows a girl struggling to find her place in a mixedup world. Climbing the Stairs is a powerful story about love and loss set against a fascinating historical backdrop.

    Read Padma Venkatraman's posts on the Penguin Blog.

 

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Excerpts-

  • From the book Chapter 1I still remember the day we celebrated Krishna Jayanthi, the festival of Lord Krishna's birth, at our home in Bombay. The drive was drenched with the juice of fallen jamun fruit and the sand of Mahim beach gleamed like a golden plate in the afternoon sunlight. Whispers of heat rose from the tar road and shivered toward the slumbering Arabian Sea.I had folded up my ankle-length skirt and was getting ready to climb up the jamun tree. A warm breeze blew around my bare knees. My brother's brown legs were already wrapped around the roughness of the main trunk, clinging on like a monkey to its mother's body. Kitta was eighteen and he'd just started college, but though his voice had recently deepened and the first fuzzy promise of a black mustache shadowed his upper lip, he still looked more a boy than a man. Our dog, Raja, was yapping loudly on the ground, wagging his tail.I spread an old rug on the ground beneath the tree and climbed up after him, scraping my skin against its lumpy bark. Soon we were shaking the branches, watching the ripe purple fruit rain onto the rug like a monsoon shower."Vidya!" amma called. I glanced down. I could see her disapproving gaze from where she stood, barefoot on our verandah, the open patio in front of our home. Ever since I had turned fifteen and started wearing a half sari, she had been hoping that I would become womanly, not climb any more trees, run no more races across the beach sands and stop playing volleyball at Walsingham Girls' School (she felt it wasn't ladylike). She held a bowl and a small white rag in her hands. "Would you like to decorate the verandah?"Every year we would paint tiny white footprints all the way across the red cement on the front steps and verandah, into the marble-flecked mosaic floor of the house, through the great hall and to the prayer room in the back; footsteps to lead Lord Krishna into our home. I didn't mind. It was one of the few girlish tasks I enjoyed."I'm going to paint some Krishna feet," I told Kitta. I climbed down and patted Raja on his head. I tried to rinse the purple stains off my hands at the brass tap in the corner of the garden, scrubbing my hands with the hairy hide of a fallen coconut. I straightened out my skirt and walked up the stairs."Thank you," amma said, forcing the corners of her mouth upward. Her smiles had been different ever since appa had started coming home late. The bright white sign still hung on the door of the clinic behind our home, slightly askew, stating in English, Hindi and Marathi that the doctor worked from nine o'clock to five o'clock during the week and from nine until twelve on Saturdays. But he no longer kept those hours. He went missing, at least a few days each week, returning after Kitta and I were back from school. Some evenings, amma sent us to bed before we saw him."Where do you go, appa?" I had asked, and he had patted my head and replied that he had started another job."What job?" I had asked. "Why do you need two jobs?"To which he had simply replied, "Nothing for you to worry about."The only time I enjoyed hearing him say those words was when he had said them to amma, a month ago, on her birthday.He had taken us to Mr. Sultan's jewelry store. Kitta and I had been sitting on plush satin-backed chairs in the showroom, clinking the ice cubes in the tall glasses of sweet lime juice that the store hand had brought to us on a silver tray, trying to see which of us could swirl the liquid faster without spilling it."Everything looks beautiful on you," appa told amma. Pairs of gold earrings were set out on the glass case in front of them, glimmering against the blue velvet that lined their boxes. Amma held up a diamond-studded flower design...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 28, 2008
    Venkatraman makes a memorable debut with this lushly evoked novel set in India during WWII. Fifteen-year-old Vidya is shocked and proud to learn that her appa
    (father), a compassionate doctor, has joined the “freedom fighters,” who follow Gandhi's example of nonviolent protest against British rule. But tragedy strikes: during a rally Vidya's father is beaten nearly to death and left with severe brain injury. Because he can no longer practice medicine, the family is forced to move in with relatives, who treat them as servants. The only bright moments of Vidya's days, otherwise spent under the thumb of her tyrannical aunt, come before dinner, when she is allowed to slip upstairs to the library and bury herself in books. More than a feisty Cinderella story (and yes, Vidya does find a prince), this novel vivifies a unique era and culture as it movingly expresses how love and hope can blossom even under the most dismal of circumstances. Ages 12–up.

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