Around the World in 80 Books by David Damrosch
A Maiden’s Prayer: A Family Story Set in 1970s Sri Lanka
Location(s): Sri Lanka
Set in the Southeast Asian tropics of Sri Lanka, the story centers on an extended family trying to marry off a reluctant male relative. Berty Rajakaruna, a Jane Austenian-type of bachelor, is trying to figure out whether marriage is worth trying to reclaim his family estate from the clutches of a scheming sister. The estate is crumbling but special because it was founded by his great-great-grandfather, a Mudaliyar (comparable to a country squire) under British rule.
Wittily narrated by a young, precocious niece, the story opens a window to armchair travel; each chapter is a vignette with social, political or cultural context woven together by Berty’s life. Among the themes are astrology, Buddhism, coming-of-age and the political backdrop of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s socialist-leaning government.
Above all, it poses the question: this tiny island in the Indian Ocean is a world apart, but how connected are we in our needs, desires, fears and emotions?
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