Online Edition: Summer 2003

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Mangoes on the Maple Tree

Uma Paramesweran

Broken Jaw Press ($15)

by Michelle Reale

In Mangoes on the Maple Tree, Canadian writer Uma Parameswaran gives us a forceful yet profound look at an Indian-Canadian family. The characters here negotiate the ordinary travails of daily life while acutely conscious of the one thing many people are hardly aware of: their national identities.

Paramesweran sets two family's lives, the Bhaves and their slightly more domestically challenged cousins the Moghes, amidst the 1997 floods in Winnipeg. Initially readers might feel as though they have begun reading a psychological study of a typical working class family, but slowly and with great skill, Parameswaran--a writer incredibly adept at subterfuge--shows that the conflicts are both internal and external, personal and political. Concurrently, each character struggles with a sense of duty to self, family and country. All the while, the flood rages on, a perfect metaphor for waters that both destroy and cleanse, that provide fear and challenges but at the same time opportunities and second chances.

There are times during Mangoes on the Maple Tree when one wishes for more "silent" space, where we might get a better look at the internal life of Parameswaran's characters--because they are, to the author's credit, so fascinating and multi-dimensional, one longs to "see" them away from the conflicted crowd. Instead we hear nearly everything through a copious amount of dialogue that occasionally wearies and obfuscates a point, paradoxically, by being too direct. Sometimes the dialogue and banter between and amongst characters seems forced and borders on the polemical, but that is a small flaw, compared to the graceful and intriguing story line and the suspenseful and satisfying finish. This is the story of two families that not only dive deep into dangerous waters, but surface and live to tell the tale.

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Summer 2003 Table of Contents