“Pretty as a peacock, twelve-year-old Leela had been spoiled all her life. She doesn’t care for school and barely marks the growing unrest between the British colonists and her own countrymen. Why should she? Her future has been planned since her engagement at two and marriage at nine.
Leela’s whole life changes, though, when her husband dies. She’s now expected to behave like a proper widow: shaving her head and trading her jewel-toned saris for rough, earth-colored ones. Leela is considered unlucky now, and will have to stay confined to her house for a year—keep corner—in preparation for a life of mourning for a boy she barely knew.
When her schoolteacher hears of her fate, she offers Leela lessons at home. For the first time, despite her confinement, Leela opens her eyes to the changing world around her. India is suffering from a severe drought, and farmers are unable to pay taxes to the British. She learns about a new leader of the people, a man named Gandhi, who starts a political movement and practices satyagraha—non-violent protest against the colonists as well as the caste system. The quiet strength ofsatyagraha may liberate her country. Could she use the same path to liberate herself?
One of my favorite things to do at the library, if I have a bit of time, is to randomly pick a shelf and then browse the books on it for something that looks interesting. In this case, I was wandering through the YA section and looked at the Fiction, R-T authors (my library has YA divided up into general fiction, genre fiction and then series). Something about Keeping Corner caught my eye and I am so glad that I picked it up to read. It is probably one of the more intriguing books that I have read in the last year.
I’ll admit that my knowledge of India’s history is rather lacking – I know very little about it, because it never really intrigued me to study it. Of course, everyone knows who Ghandi was (or at least the vast majority of us do). Keeping Corner takes place as he was starting his long-journey of activism – he wasn’t too widely known in the more rural areas of India (where Leela and her family lived), but was in the cities (where Leela’s brother lived). But while Ghandi is mentioned frequently through-out, Keeping Corner is more the story of Leela.
A young girl and soon to be child-bride, Leela is living her life as expected – waiting for her marriage to occur, so she can move in with her new husband’s family. But that all changes drastically when her soon to be husband is bitten by a snake and dies. Now she is expected to mourn for a year, in a tradition known as “keeping corner” – isolated from the world she has grown up in, not allowed to express joy, limited in interactions. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to survive what Leela did for a year – it took mental acuity that I don’t know that I possess (or many people today may possess). She faced the loss with bravery, and while at times she acted like the young girl she was (only 12) – she also displayed at times, the maturity of someone far older.
The author wrote Leela’s story in a way that would be engaging to both Young-Adults and adults who were reading the book. It has made me want to explore and read more about India’s customs, when it comes to death, weddings, births etc. although I haven’t found any books yet that I can recommend. Overall, I gave Keeping Corner 4 stars and I can’t wait to find more books by the author.