Convincing novel has many set pieces that are pitch perfect


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A Cycle of the Moon

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2010 (4277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Cycle of the Moon

By Uma Parameswaran

TSAR Publications, 217 pages, $21

supplied photo Uma Parameswaran

This delightful novel, set in the Indian city of Madras (now Chennai) in 1965, begins with the return of Mayura, a proud young woman who is intensely disillusioned with her new husband. In deserting him and returning home she has broken all the rules.

The question is what will she do next? Will she devote herself to good works like her great-aunt Kamakshi, widowed after a few years of marriage? Will she live the seemingly exotic life of a single woman in the arts, like the friend of another aunt? Or will she give into family pressure and go back to her husband?

With Cycle of the Moon, Winnipeg’s Uma Parameswaran has added yet another fascinating piece to the rich field of Indo-Canadian literature.

If you enjoyed Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or Deepa Mehta’s film Water, you should read this book.

Parameswaran, who moved from India to Winnipeg in the 1960s, is a retired University of Winnipeg English professor. She has published poetry, short fiction and one play. This is her second novel.

Mayura’s choices, to a western eye, appear very narrow indeed, but they have a familiar ring, even here, even now. And is there any woman (or any man) who hasn’t, at some point in a marriage, felt like cutting out?

Mayura spends a month at home debating her options. She sees everyone in a new light, including her beloved brother who has just forsaken his sweetheart for an advantageous arranged marriage, and Chander, a cousin returned from grad school in Manitoba.

Once an innocent idealist, Chander now exudes a sleazy suggestiveness. Are all men cads, she wonders, or do they simply mature late and wear masks in the meantime?

But most of the stories here (the novel is structured as a series of stories evoked by Mayura’s presence) belong to women, and most of them are sad tales, full of stoicism and regret. The most moving is the life of Saveri, Mayura’s youngest aunt, who married a brilliant scholar. Mayura has always envied her Aunt Saveri. Now she learns the truth.

Though all the stories are convincing, it is heavy going at times. But Parmeswaran never lets us wallow in pity or groan at an unlikely monologue for long.

Her gentle satire on the elite in post-independence India is one of the highlights. In such a world, having spent a few days in jail during the independence struggle is worth a ministry, and a membership in “the club” is essential.

Off go the sons to America (not Britain) for post-graduate work and home they come to be married off, always in August, so they can be back in the United States for the beginning of term.

Several set pieces are pitch perfect. The immediate reaction to Mayura’s arrival is one of them. From his office, her father shoots off damage-control telegrams to the forsaken husband, while at home her mother presents herself, unperturbed, to visitors who just happen to drop by.

Another highlight is the portrayal of Mayura’s extended family, headed by her grandfather, a retired judge. They are a privileged and articulate bunch, not as careless of custom and public opinion as the crew in Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, but still an eccentric group. “We are inveterate romantics,” claims aunt Kamakshi. “Idealism is a plague in the family.”

Winnipeg writer Faith Johnston lived in India in 1967-69 and is still filling in pieces of the puzzle.

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