Climbing the Stairsby Padma Venkatraman
Published on May 1, 2008
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“During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.
Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother decides to fight with the hated British against the Nazis, and when Raman proposes marriage too soon, Vidya must question all she has believed in.”
I’ve been a big fan of this author’s verse novel A Time To Dance.Â Climbing the Stairs is a bit different.Â This is a historical fiction book set in World War II.Â Vidya’s father is a doctor who aids nonviolent protestors who are injured by British soldiers.Â Vidya’s brother is concerned about the strategic value of India leading to a Japanese invasion.Â He wants to enlist in the Army.Â The rest of the family is horrified.Â They are Brahmin and that caste does not traditionally join the military.Â They especially do not join the British Army.
Vidya’s father believes in her dream to go to college instead of being married at a young age.Â When he is injured and they have to move to his father’s home, all her dreams are forgotten.Â Her family is treated as a burden.Â Vidya and her mother are used as servants for the rest of the family.Â Vidya gets permission to read in her grandfather’s library while she watches her newborn cousin.Â Here she is able to help enhance her education while her world crumbles around her.
I really enjoyed this book.Â It is a short book but sets the time and place well.Â There is a true conflict between appreciating and supporting the British defense of India against the Japanese while still fighting against the British subjugation of Indians.Â There is conflict between traditional ideas of a woman’s place in Indian society and the desire to have a different life.
Important Spoiler about the Dog
Vidya has a dog at the beginning.Â It is known that her uncle hates dogs.Â I had to put the book aside for a bit because I just knew something bad was going to happen to the dog when they had to move in with the uncle and grandfather.Â I can’t handle something bad happening to dogs.Â Nothing does though.Â He gets a good home.Â They even visit him later and he is doing well.Â The dog is fine.Â Carry on reading.