Book review: The Prayer Room

Shanthi Sekaran’s debut novel, first published in 2009 and recently re-released by Harper Collins, looks at an inter-cultural marriage set across three countries and a host of forgotten memories. George, a British student, is forced to marry Viji, a Tamilian, after they are caught making love. What follows is the story of their marriage, as they travel across borders, time zones and life landmarks.

Inter-racial, inter-cultural marriages are commonplace today, but that doesn’t mitigate the huge ‘adjustment’ to be made by those in it. Viji must learn to deal with British and American ways of living and thinking, and overcome a childhood of psychological disturbances before she can find ‘home’. George has to learn to come to terms with his own life choices before he can completely give himself to her. Even as each grapples with inner conflicts, life happens to them relentlessly — triplets are born, an incorrigible father-in-law comes to stay, infidelity takes a casual stroll across the map of their marriage.

The book is rife with insight about relationships (“Women were spider silk, so easily torn. Men were clamoring children”), sewn with gentle wit. It’s a book in which nothing dramatic really happens (after all, what more can be said about the immigrant experience?) and yet the narrative keeps you turning the pages, if nothing else but for the sheer pleasure of Sekaran’s deliberately nonchalant play with words. A few details are extraneous, a few skeletons in the closet cliched. Even so, this is a book for lovers of the language.

And yet, I was terribly disappointed with Harper Collins’ editing — there are typographical errors every five pages, a missing space even on the cover quote! The blurb on the back describing the book as ‘hilarious and heartfelt’ does not really do justice to its various nuances and strokes of artistry.

I look forward to Sekaran’s second book; I hope she takes up a new subject and newer emotional landscapes next time.


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