In the Convent of Little Flowers
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In the Convent of Little Flowers
Hardcover Edition
Atria Books, December 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4165-8609-8

In the Convent of Little Flowers
Paperback Edition
Washington Square Press, September 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-8610-4

In this remarkably elegant and compact story collection, Indu Sundaresan opens a window onto an ancient and unique culture while exploring the underlying humanity of the people who inhabit it. IN THE CONVENT OF LITTLE FLOWERS introduces readers to a compelling array of people, all struggling to negotiate a world that is both instinctively familiar and bewilderingly strange to them. Their world is India in the twenty-first century–a place of eternal diversity that has been influenced by the West, where transition sometimes clashes with modernity and where the old practices no longer fully apply, yet the long shadow of tradition still holds sway.

In "Shelter of Rain," an America-raised Indian adoptee prepares to return to the Convent of Little Flowers, where she once lived as an orphan, after receiving a letter from a nun claiming to be her aunt. Elderly Meha, in "Three and A Half Seconds," reflects on the devastating consequences of giving her son everything modern society demands–and teaching him nothing the traditional world values–in the last moments of her life. "The Key Club" depicts the bewildered longing of Ram, one of Chennai’s eight most powerful men, for his best friend’s wife, who was the college sweetheart he abandoned as lower-class. And "The Faithful Wife" examines the influence and authority of ritual when a woman asks her journalist grandson to come back to his home village, to try and persuade his grandfather to stop the outlawed practice of Sati, where the community is about to force a twelve-year-old widow to burn alive in the ancient tradition.

The nine stories in this collection of tales skillfully explore the ties between friends, relatives, and the long fingers of the past. Each is a portrait of women and men struggling with the weight of hundreds of years of ingrained teaching on class, caste, and sexuality–just as their parents and grandparents were taught–as it clashes with the hopes and dreams of a population coming into the 21st century, with all of the freedoms that supposedly entails. Even the very names of the characters who people these pages are taken from Indian myth and legend, with consequences in the present day.

Sundaresan writes with confidence and elegance, retaining the gorgeously evocative tone for which she has become known while infusing her newest work with the freshness of authenticity. As she describes in her author’s note, the genesis of many of the stories told in IN THE CONVENT OF LITTLE FLOWERS are the real-life tales, garnered through newspaper clippings or the stories told by neighbors. Young or old, rich or poor, high-class or low-caste, the characters in IN THE CONVENT OF LITTLE FLOWERS represent the real faces of India today.

© Indu Sundaresan
Contact Indu: indu (at) indusundaresan (dot) com