Preeta Samarasan

Author of
  • Evening is the Whole Day
    Houghton Mifflin (04/08)

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, where an early version of this novel received the Hopwood Novel Award; she also recently won the Asian American Writer’s Workshop/Hyphen Magazine short-story award. She currently lives in central France with her husband, daughter and dog.

Books by Preeta

Evening is the Whole Day

Set in Malaysia, Preeta’s spellbinding and 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.

Preeta Samarasan reads at No Black Tie

Praise for Evening is the Whole Day

A magical, exuberant, tragicomic vision of post-colonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy. In prose of acrobatic grace, Samarasan conjures a vibrant portrait, by turns intimate and sweeping, of characters and a country coming of age. The debut of a significant and thrilling new talent.

Peter Ho Davies, Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Welsh Girl (2007)

[A] delicious first novel…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 Smarasan’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 Book Review

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.

Publisher’s Weekly

*Starred Review* Six-year-old Aasha sees ghosts, but her unhappy mother seems to look right through her and her funny brother, Suresh, and smart sister, Uma. All Chellam, a much-abused servant, wants is a pair of glasses, while in spite of her cataracts, Paati, the malevolent old matriarch in a family that redefines the term dysfunctional, is as mercilessly watchful as a vulture. Questions of perception abound in this psychologically acute and boldly plotted tale of descendants of immigrants from India living in material comfort and emotional impoverishment in ethnically complex Malaysia. At the root of their misery is Paati’s successful lawyer son’s decision not to marry one of the worldly women in his circle but, rather, to wed his cruel neighbor’s desperate daughter. Instead of the worshipfully grateful wife he envisioned, she turns out to be stone-cold and small-minded. As the story begins, in 1980, Chellam is leaving in disgrace, while Uma has become uncharacteristically uncommunicative. Shocking secrets exert a malevolent force, and all are slowly revealed as Samarasan repeatedly loops back in time. Extraordinarily incisive, Samarasan provocatively links the sorrows of one distraught family to Malaysia’s bloody conflicts in a surpassingly wise and beautiful debut novel about the tragic consequences of the inability to love.

Donna Seaman, Booklist
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