by Kashimira Sheth. Hyperion, 2007. Leela is a twelve year old girl living with her family in Gujarat, India in 1918. She was engaged at the age of two and married at nine, but hasn't moved to her husband's family household yet. She is a person of the high Brahman caste, so she is pampered and endulged by her parents with pretty clothes, sweets, and jewlery.
She lives a happy life and is generally kind though frivilous and carefree. She is planning to leave school and go to live in her husband's household soon when he unexpectedly dies from a poisonous snake bite. Suddenly Leela is a widow and must "sit corner" for a year of mourning. That means, among other things, that she can not leave the house, can't wear any jewlery at all, must wear only simple brown clothes and has her hair shaved off to the scalp. She will never be allowed to marry anyone else and will live as an outcast widow the rest of her life. Her whole family plunges into mourning.
Leela has an older brother who lives in the big city and has so far resisted his parents urging to find a wife. He is studying Gandhi's teaching and wants change to come to India. Leela's father and uncles are also learning from Gandhi and participate in the "satyagrah" or peaceful resistance organized to protest the English rule and unfair taxes against the farmers during drought. Leela's brother persuades the local grammar school principal, Saviben, a modern thinking and well educated young woman, to come and tutor Leela so she can continue her education. Over the course of the year Leela gradually starts to shift her focus from her own misery to the larger world, as she reads the paper for homework and discusses the writings of Narmad and Gandhi.
I found Keeping Corner to be fascinating and very well written. The details about daily life, the delights of the brightly colored silk saris and tempting descriptions of sweets during festivals, and the crushing burden of traditional customs holding the people down are expertly described. The changes and growth that Leela and her family achieve in the year of mourning are astounding. For example, in the opening chapter Leela is on her way to a local festival and cunningly encourages her mother to persuade her father to allow them to take the ox cart into town, so that her sari won't get dusty in the walk. By the end of the book her mother is silenced on the topic of continuing her daughter's education, but Leela herself has the education, logical thinking skills and persuasive ability to convince her stubborn, wary father to allow her to travel to the big city to continue her education at boarding school. From obsession on her appearance and amusing distractions to the serious commitment to taking her future into her own hands Leela comes of age in these pages.
This book is highly recommended for middle and high school students studying early 20th century history, India, Gandhi, or peaceful resistance. Use it in a book group on with the Quaker testimony of Peace, Integrity, or Community.
This is my fifth book read for the 4th annual Mother Reader 49 Hour Reading Challenge.
I am putting up posts on all the books I read. For every unique, meaningful comment I receive on those posts I will donate $1 to Bridget Zinn's medical fund. Bridget is a Young Adult author, librarian and book blogger who is in expensive cancer treatment. Many kidlit bloggers have come together to offer support for her and I am happy to join in. If you can come by this weekend and comment on the books I'm reading you can be part of that too. If you are doing the 48 Hour Reading challenge let me know and I'll come and follow you too!
So far the comment tally is at 31. You still have time to comment on these posts and I will count them for the donnation up until midnight on Monday. I will be sending a check to Bridget Zinn's medical fund for the total number of book challenge post comments made by midnight.
48 Hour Reading Challenge Rules are here, Prizes are listed here, and Starting Line is here. I'm offering a prize: I will donate a framed 5x7 print of one of my favorite photos and original haiku to the person who raises the most money for a Greater Good cause.