"[A] psychologically acute and boldly plotted tale of descendants of immigrants from India living in material
comfort and emotional impoverishment in ethnically complex Malaysia[...] Shocking secrets exert a malevolent force,
and all are slowly revealed as Samarasan repeatedly loops back in time. Extraordinarily incisive,
Samarasan provocatively links the sorrows of one distraught family to Malaysia's bloody conflicts in a surpassingly
wise and beautiful debut novel about the tragic consequences of the inability to love."
— Booklist (starred review)
* * *
"[A] beautifully written debut novel [...]. Because the description of Malaysia and its diverse population is
so achingly lyrical, readers will want to slow down to absorb each word; at other times, as when they get caught up
in the family drama, they will want to quicken their pace. This book is destined to be highly sought after by fans of
Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy."
— Library Journal (starred review)
* * *
"Set on the outskirts of Ipoh in Malaysia, Samarasan's impressive debut chronicles another bad year in the Big
House on Kingfisher Lane. With the death of Paati, the grandmother, and the disgraceful departure of Chellam,
the family's servant girl, the wealthy Rajasekharan family is in shambles. Skillfully jumping from one
consciousness to another, Samarasan moves back in time to reveal the secrets that have led to the family's
unraveling[....] The language bursts with energy, and Samarasan has a sure hand juggling so many distinct
— Publisher's Weekly
* * *
"A complex web of public and private histories shared by an Indian immigrant family is painstakingly examined in the ambitious first novel[...] [Samarasan] scores impressively with the creation of an intimate, gossipy omniscient narrative voice that's the perfect vehicle for her slowly unfolding, intricately layered story."
* * *
"A magical, exuberant tragic-comic vision of postcolonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy. In prose of
acrobatic grace, Samarasan conjures a vibrant portrait, by turns intimate and sweeping, of characters and a country
coming of age. The début of a significant, and thrilling, new talent."
— Peter Ho Davies, Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Welsh Girl (2007)
* * *
"Preeta Samarasan's passionate, striking book, stunned with light and heat, is full of the memory of enchantment
and the enchantment of memory. Samarasan cultivates with brilliance the taut battle between the public and
familial being, and the hidden and fragile inner self, trapped in a world of myth and mystery."
— Susanna Moore, author of One Last Look and winner of the 1999 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature
* * *
"Rich, quirky and colourful, Evening Is the Whole Day captures not just the sense of a family struggling to deal with
its past, but the crazy uncertainty of a country coming to terms with itself."
— Tash Aw, author of The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), winner of 2005 Whitbread Award and 2005 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Novel (Asia-Pacific region)
* * *
"A wonderfully engaging novel, poignant yet comical, about the contradictions and hazards inherent in a modern,
— M.G. Vassanji, author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003), two-time winner of Canada's Giller Prize
* * *
"[A] delicious first novel[...] Samarasan's fabric is gorgeous. Her ambitious spiraling plot, her richly embroidered prose,
her sense of place, and her psychological acuity are stunning."
— Allegra Goodman, New York Times Sunday Book Review (full review and excerpt)
* * *
"Samarasan captures beautifully the conflict both within the family and the country during the early years of Malaysia's
independence. Vibrant, descriptive, and peppered with colourful Indian-Malaysian dialogue, this is an epic that's informative
without being worthy, and engrossing but not frivolous."
— The Guardian, Francesca Segal (full review)
* * *
"Evening Is The Whole Day, Preeta Samarasan's stunning debut novel, is that rare gem: A work that bows to the greats
that have gone before, but stands upright in its own space.... [A]s the layers peel away and we are forced to confront
the horrors that nestle inside appearances, the story takes on larger resonances that include society and state.
Samarasan is a talent to watch out for."
— The Hindu, Sumana Mukherjee (full review)
* * *
"[A] colourful and quirky debut novel."
— The Deccan Herald (full review)
* * *
"Malaysia permeates Samarasan's novel without didacticism about the country's identity politics. [The novel] shows the
symbiotic and separate relationship between Malays, Chinese and Indians."
— The Independent, Salil Tripathi (full review)
* * *
"Evening is the Whole Day is fantastically good. [...] It really deserves the rather hackneyed title of 'a stunning debut.'
[...] Samarasan has a powerful and compelling narrative style all her own that captures, with incredible and harrowing emotional
precision, the cruelties that once-loving family members can pile on one another. [...] The Malaysian setting is conveyed with
cinematic vividness through food and streetscapes, and sheds a fascinating light on the complex relationship between Malaysia's
diasporic Indian community and its ongoing struggle to define its national identity."
— Mslexia Magazine (UK), Neelam Srivastava (full review)
* * *
"The poetic note struck by the lovely, melancholy title echoes through the whole of Preeta Samarasan's lyrical debut, evoking the wistfulness that settles on all her characters. [...] Samarasan weaves the story with subtle suspense to create many moments of small revelation, and our own allegiances and interpretations are constantly shifting and evolving. [The novel] is a beautifully wrought catalog of injustices in which the plot is driven by cruelty [...]. Samarasan refrains from judging her characters for their petty callousness, and yet neither is anyone absolved."
— BUST Magazine, April/May 2008
* * *
"The narrative style is bracingly close. Flits of expression, imperceptible gestures, odors pungent and wafting, are paid great
attention, allowing the reader to plunge deeply into these characters' motivations and manipulations.... With long and rhythmic
sentences, Samarsan's prose delights while it reveals deep- seeded hurt. The final redemption, while poignant and fittingly small,
is not nearly enough to uplift this family, or this young country, any time soon. If this family stands for Malaysia itself,
then it is a country still deeply wounded by its past."
— Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), Jillian Schedneck (full review)
* * *
"The novel skillfully moves between past and present and slowly reveals the painful stories at the heart of this family —
stories of betrayal, lost dreams, failed marriages, cultural and political alienation, incest, murder, and violence. The
painful experiences of the family are placed within the context of Indo-Malaysian experiences and the long history of denied
citizenship, violation of human rights, and repression. Samarasan writes with very careful attention to the structure of her
novel and never loses control of the plot or characters and the minutiae of the characters' daily lives. Her use of language
is evocative and vivid and she does of Malaysian Tamil culture what Arundhati Roy did for Syrian Christians in Kerala in
God of Small Things."
— International Examiner, Nalini Iyer (full review)
* * *
"From beautiful scenery to ugly cultural clashes, Evening is the Whole Day offers up a sense of Malaysian history and culture,
but also sketches familial tensions anyone can understand. By starting with a mystery — how did Paati die? — the book
grabs our attention immediately, but a desire to learn more about the richly detailed — if not always likeable —
characters kept us reading to the end."
— Bostonist (full review & interview)
* * *
"Samarasan details the colourful and secretive lives of the Rajasekharans, a wealthy Indian immigrant family. She keeps us
guessing as the secrets... are slowly revealed."
— Image Magazine (Ireland)
* * *
"Time may well show that Evening is the Whole Day is nothing less than modern Malaysia's Middlemarch.... This book's central
virtues are sympathy and understanding, combined with a tough-minded refusal to deny cruel truths. Yet it still manages to
be witty, inventive and high-spirited, tossing brand names and popular songs into its rich evocation of provincial life in
Malaysia's Ipoh. It succeeds superbly, and must surely be one of the finest novels published in English anywhere this year."
— The Taipei Times, Bradley Winterton (full review)
* * *
"[A] painstakingly detailed portrait of the post-colonial history of a society where Indian immigrants, Malays and Chinese
are jostling to claim their legitimate space.... The novel offers the reader a rich mix of the personal and the political and
Samarasan is in her element when she places intimate relations under the scanner, charting a map of the human heart."
— Asian Review of Books, Vineetha Mokkil (full review)
* * *
"Samarasan draws the reader in with her deft management of the story line and a polyglot language that is a delightful blend
of the multiethnic cuisine and other cultural trivia... The author's style lingers over details of character and incident to
build an engaging tale of a celebrated family developing putrefying cracks from within."
— Businessworld, Ram Shankar Nanda (full review)
* * *
"Samarasan ambitiously looks at and beyond Malaysia while plumbing the daily malaise of one family... While [the author's] gift
is to give the children points of view that are believable and compelling, she has the confidence and competence to chillingly
shift perspective to their parents — Appa and Amma — as well as to their paternal grandmother — Paati —
and the child-servant, Chellam."
— India Currents, Rajesh C. Oza (full review)
* * *
"To read Preeta Samarasan's Evening is the Whole Day is to live briefly like a resident of the tropics, stifled and sapped by
her prose as if it were the lush, sticky warmth that precedes the day's rain."
— The National Newspaper (United Arab Emirates), Samanth Subramaniam (full review)
* * *
"Everyone is talking about this stunning debut. In literary circles, her novel is being compared to the high-profile ones of
Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai. The hype is well deserved. [...] Preeta Samarasan is an accomplished, confident writer who
never stumbles in her story-telling skills. [...] Woven into their lives deftly is the political situation of the time as well
as the class/race divisions. The real beauty of the novel though lies in the lyrical, natural tone that the author uses.
You are transported into the Big House at Kingfisher Lane in Ipoh with every cadence of speech. [...] Not only is she a great
new voice, Samarasan brings Malaysia on to the world map of literature. In the most lyrical, sensational manner."
— The Indian Express, Nonita Kalra (full review)
* * *
"Preeta Samarasan's debut novel tingles with brilliance even as it meanders across family secrets on a magical, mystery tour.
— The Business Standard, K S Shekhawat (full review, and extract)
* * *
"[A] notable debut novel that has at its narrative center a child trying to make sense of sudden tumultuous events in her
large Indian family's life. Aasha's family are successful immigrants in Malaysia, and the country's postcolonial turmoil
sets the scene for the Rajasekharans' own unraveling."
— National Geographic Traveler, Don George (full blurb)
The Buzz Online
Evening Is the Whole Day has been put to the Page 69 Test
You can read the introduction from the Campaign for the American Reader blog,
the test itself,
and a bit about the history of the Page 69 Test.
* * *
"[A] book which grabs your attention and simply won't let go... with prose so rich you feel pampered and a story which
is everyday in its setting but extraordinary in the telling. [...] You won't read it quickly as you'll need to savour each
word as I doubt that there's one that's superfluous in the whole book. There are characters who stay with you long after
you've finished the book and not one who doesn't come off the page perfectly formed. The plot is a delicate construction
of story upon story leading you, inevitably, to a conclusion that you never thought you would reach, but which is perfect.
It's splendid stuff and the book is highly recommended."
— The Bookbag, Sue Magee (full review)
* * *
"[Samarasan] keeps suspense measured, her characters are perfectly pitched without being stereotypes and the story is gripping
right to the end. I really fell into this book and its respectful treatment of a range of sensitive issues, but above all
the writing is what sets it apart; if you like long sexy sentences that ooze colour and taste then you have found your
— Waterstones.com, Leonie Jackson (full review)
* * *
"[A] strong first novel, chewy with language and rich with intricate attention to detail."
— Sepia Mutiny, Amardeep Singh (full review)
* * *
"Samarasan is a new writer on the scene, and her densely woven story is not only steeped in Malaysian history, culture,
turmoil, and richness, but is written by a woman who knows what it is to write..... Knowing this was Samarasan's first book,
and wary of the accolades comparing her writing to Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, I read it carefully, looking for weakness
and derivation. I found none."
— Perceptive Travel, Antonia Malchik (full review)
* * *
"Samarasan skillfully weaves the personal life of the one Indian family with the public stories of the birth pangs of modern
Malaysia to create a lush, multi-layered tapestry of stories.... EVENING IS THE WHOLE DAY is a compelling read. The large cast
of characters and mixture of public and private histories reminds me of a sweeping 19th epic, but even cameo or minor characters
are rendered so humanely that none of the characters felt superfluous. The overall effect is that this novel is a page-turner."
— Logophilia (full review)
* * *
"The closest I can think of describing this writing, as in the first-word-on-my-mind feeling is - delicious. It was really
delicious to plow through the weaves of her language in combination with all the carefully planted details. For the devil
is in the detail, and so is the book. It's the little things that matter (to women, yes, more than men) and that make up a
character. And she's really filled them all in, preparing a ground in such way that the final narrative outcome is a very
— Preeta's brilliant physicist friend Lidija Sekaric (full review)
* * *
"[O]ne of those rare debut pieces which take the reader by surprise with its confidence, elegance, and polished finish...
[The novel] depicts the racial tensions and mutual suspicions of the multi-cultural nation, the classist discriminations
within races, the minefield which is the country's inheritance from colonial days. Her political comments are barbed, hilarious,
and uncompromising, making for a riveting read."
— DesiLit.org, Lisa Lau (full review)
* * *
"There are many reasons to enjoy "Evening is the Whole Day" - its atmospheric, lyrical writing; snapshots of Malaysian
history and its multicultural population all trying to live together, sometimes succeeding but mostly failing; how class
and race continue to permeate Malaysian society; but best of all, the "Evening is the Whole Day" is a novel of family
secrets and family relationships."
— LotusReads (full review)
* * *
"Preeta Samarasan's debut novel Evening is the Whole Day, a powerful tale of a wealthy Malaysian Tamil family, is easily
one of the strongest South Asian diasporic novels I've read in some time.... Samarasan expertly contexualizes the role of
Tamil Malaysians in the nation, but she never loses sight of the fact that most of the novel's driving action is limited to
Kingfisher Lane.... But Samarasan's talent is not limited to plot. She also provides evocative descriptions with language
that is equally precise and poetic.... I strongly recommend that you pick up this novel."
— Hadji Is Dead, Rajiv Menon (full review)
"[A]n impressive debut... At one level, it is a nuanced portrayal of the trials and tribulations of one immigrant family,
but at a deeper level it deals with issues of identity, of the underclass and of the deep divides which create classes
in a nation."
— The Straits Times (Singapore), Deepika Shetty (full review)
* * *
"Just as Saleem Sinai in Rushdie's Midnight's Children is born at the exact moment his country gains independence, and his own
fortunes are closely paralleled by those of India, so too the events taking place in the house on Kingfisher Lane echo those of
the wider nation.... Not only is Evening is the Whole Day an extremely intelligent novel which works on different levels, and
explores a variety of themes, the writing is simply stunning.... There's a playfulness and a sensual love of the language which
means that every sentence, every single paragraph gives an almost physical pleasure and must be fully savoured, and the imagery
is fresh and frequently surprising.... [For] a Malaysian reading public hungry for fiction that explores political and social
issues unflinchingly, Evening is the Whole Day will be seen as a fearless burst into new territory."
— Off The Edge, Sharon Bakar
Sharon Bakar also interviewed Preeta for Quill magazine, which features the author as its July-September
covergirl (with photos by Miriam Berkley).
* * *
"Reaching within and beyond the family, the novel extends to the country at large drawing parallels between power and
powerlessness; authority and exploitation, exile and dispossession."
— The Star, Saras Manickam (full review)
* * *
"The exquisite challenge of portraying modern Malaysia is in the conveying of subtle paradoxes. Authoritarian yet democratic,
stable yet fractious, multicultural yet segregated, its nuances have defied capture in recent literature.
[...] Skimming over the dying days of colonialism and focusing on the stumbling years of early independence, Samarasan's
novel is infused with the lush yearning of its title. [...] Literary devices of Roy and McEwan will be familiar to readers,
but the atmospheric idioms and brave forthrightness of Samarasan are entirely original."
— Readings bookshop (Melbourne), Maloti Ray (full review)
* * *
"[A]n imaginative, irreverent, funny, entertaining, beautiful, and unapologetically
Malaysian creation. [...] [Samarasan presents], through the multifarious and difficult relationships among the inhabitants
of the Rajasekharan household, our country with its complexities of class, race, religion, gender and colour."
— TimeOut Kuala Lumpur, Soon Heng Lim
* * *
"I knew nothing about it except that it had a pretty cover[...]. It was only later, once I had settled comfortably into
my [airplane] seat, safely buckled in, when I realized it was, in fact, written by a Malaysian. Now I don't know about you,
but each time I pick up something by a Malaysian author, I am both excited and apprehensive. I hope for the best but expect
the worst. Because when you've had your heart broken as many a time as I have, you eventually learn to be a little cautious.
A caution that proved to be entirely unnecessary when it came to Samarasan's effort. I finished it in one sitting.
Her rich and beautiful prose had me enthralled for most of the 13 hours that it took for me to get home."
— The New Straits Times, Umapagan Ampikaipagan
* * *
"Finally, a book that sounded like all of us with real people, grappling with their hyphenated identities and fractured by family
secrets. Rich in detail and finely executed, the characters leap with intensity, the narrative is taut and kept me rapt right till
the end. Incidentally, the last sentence is one of the most powerful ones I've read for a while-it captured every anguish and made
my throat dry.... This is a remarkable first book and Preeta Samarasan pens a truly Malaysian tale. The dialogue is scintillating,
its cadence and singsong beauty made my heart leap. She also captures the Malaysian Indian psyche with candour."
— Jane Sunshine of The Splenderful Chronicles (full review)
* * *
"Just finished reading Preeta Samarasan's Evening is the Whole Day. Highly recommended! Me thinks it's one of the best books
ever written by a Malaysian. And boy, is she bold. In Manglish, I would say: Die die must read this one! Seriously. It's
that good. Her prose is pitch perfect, her characters painstakingly realistically portrayed, and the plot superb! It's like
a Malaysian version of Anna Kornikova. If you must read one book this year, please let it be this one. This book is
emotionally, literally and intellectually stimulating."
— Max Koh of lest-we-forget-whence-we-came (full post)
Excerpt from Chapter 8: What Aasha Saw
On the day Paati dies, a black butterfly finds its way into the Big House. It's the biggest butterfly Aasha has ever seen: each wing is the size of Amma's palm, with trailing teardrop tails. Around the edges of its wings are tiny flashes of cobalt blue, easy to miss because the butterfly moves so haphazardly, alighting for half a second on a bookshelf and two seconds on the coffee table, but Aasha nevertheless notices the blue and thinks of a certain sapphire pendant once belonging to Amma, and of how that, too, turned and twirled and trapped the morning light. As she ponders this memory, the butterfly's panic drips blackly from its teardrop tails into her wide eyes and open mouth, so that all of a sudden the spectacle of Suresh trying to shoo the butterfly out the window with one of Paati's coconut-frond fans makes her heart pound. She breathes so fast and hard that each breath sweeps hurricane-like through the house, blowing the lace curtains ceiling-high, sending pages of the New Straits Times flying from coffee table to dining room and kitchen floor and back yard, rotating the blades of the turned-off ceiling fans. "Tsk, Aasha," says Suresh, opening another window, "what you behaving like there's a tiger in the house? It's just a butterfly, for heaven's sake. Calm down."
But the more Aasha looks at that butterfly, the more her eyes search for those elusive flashes of blue, and the more panic suffuses her face ears neck shoulders, until it seems that there are fever hands touching her everywhere, and all she can think, though the words make no sense to her at this moment, is too late too late too late. Is someone else too late to save Aasha, or is she too late for some unknown but crucial engagement? She doesn't know, she cannot know, and not knowing is the worst part of it — how is she supposed to do anything to remedy the situation? Just when she's about to burst into tears with the unbearable weight of this realization, the butterfly seems to fall through the air towards her burning face, and then there it is, just above her nose, the size of a bat the size of a crow the size of an owl, only now it's all blue, though it still casts a black shadow on her face, a black owl-shaped shadow, and the tears hanging round and ready in her throat bloom into a ragged scream.
"Aasha! Ish! Go, go away. Go and read a book," says Suresh, fanning at the butterfly where it hovers above her face.
But Aasha's feet are frozen; she slumps down onto an ottoman and continues to watch. By the time one of Suresh's fan-swipes sends the butterfly flitting out an open window, her ribs ache from all that battering her heart has inflicted on them, and her eyeballs are so dry she can't blink. She moves to the settee, lies face-down, and sleeps until almost noon.
When Aasha wakes up she hears Chellam stirring sugar into Paati's pre-bath coffee.
"Chhi!" she hears Paati scold; she can tell by the pitch and timbre of Paati's voice that Paati thinks no one's listening. This is her lowheat, just-barely-bubbling, complaining-to-herself voice. "Every day," she continues, "every day I have to remind her about the coffee. If I don't tell her nicely-nicely she pretends to forget, just to get out of it. When it comes to taking my son's money every month she doesn't forget; only the work she's being paid for she forgets. How many times does she have to be told, if I don't have a hot drink before my bath just like that I'll get sick again. Choom, choom, choom all day, I'll be sneezing till my head hurts. Haven't I just been sick? Did she learn nothing from that? She thinks I'm sixteen years old, that I can take a bath without a hot drink first."
Chellam's still stirring that eversilver tumbler of coffee, though the sugar must be long dissolved by now, stirring stirring stirring, more and more vigorously, that teaspoon chiming like an alarm bell.
Aasha yawns, stretches, and — finally ready to take Suresh's advice — wanders upstairs to find a book. She chooses the book she took out of the public library on the one and only trip she made there with Uma in June. "Come and put on your shoes," Uma had said. "I can't be waiting all morning." Aasha had put on her shoes, and they had set off. As simple as that. For that is what miracles are like sometimes: quiet, unheralded, unglamorous to all but the beneficiary.
Uma long ago returned the book she checked out for herself that day, but Aasha, uninvited on subsequent trips to the library, has held on to The Wind in the Willows, and it is now shockingly overdue. She has dipped into it solely while waiting and watching, hoping and listening for greater things. One eye on Uma or Chellam, one eye on the book. By this method alone she has reached page 98, an achievement that would have been recognized as exceptional had not the novelty of genius worn off, within the family, after the golden age of Uma's childhood. Appa and Amma and Uma and Suresh barely notice what Aasha reads these days.
Book in hand, Aasha goes back downstairs and takes her place behind the green PVC settee in the corridor, from which vantage point she keeps track of Paati's many Chellam-assisted comings and goings from the bathroom.
Two years ago, Paati submitted to a magnificent decline. Almost overnight, as if some evil spirit had snatched away her old body for itself, her pinhead cataracts fattened into coins. The arthritis that had been nibbling at her knees for years sank its fangs right in. Soon after, it cauliflowered her hands, then coconut-shell-curved her back. Now she sits all day in her rattan chair, counting weeks and months, money and grudges, on her fingers.