Today my blog is one of the stops on MotherTalk’s Blog Tour for On Borrowed Wings by first time novelist Chandra Prasad.
On Borrowed Wings; Chandra Prasad; ISBN-13: 978-0743297820; Atria Books (
The synopsis provided on MotherTalk goes like this:
Set in the 1930’s, Chandra Prasad’s debut novel tells the story of Adele, a sixteen-year-old girl destined to live out her life in the tiny Connecticut quarry town in which she was born. When her brother Charles is killed in a quarry accident, Adele decides to impersonate him and enrolls at Yale in his stead--an educational privilege that is simply unimaginable for a woman in that era. As Adele encounters bigoted professors, wealthy bookworms and dashing WASPS, she begins to see her true self emerge--in however unlikely a package. On Borrowed Wings is a lovingly researched social history, tinged with the intrigue of gender-play and the pathos of a coming-of-age novel.
I was excited to read this as I always enjoy discussions of gender, social status, racial, and familial identity, and from the looks of the description, Prasad seemed to touch on each of them--all in a period context, which I especially like.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
During the first 50 or so pages of the book, I was fondly reminded of a little-known but critically acclaimed novel from the late 1930s, Christ in Concrete by Pietro di Donato; both Prasad's and di Donato's main characters are thrust into family leadership roles because of the deaths of their fathers, but Adele’s status as a young woman adds a unique twist to Prasad’s story. And it was a true pleasure to watch Adele come into her own not only as the leader of her family but also as a woman in her own right.
Prasad does a great job of painting the scene, making the reader part of an old quarry town in Connecticut, feeling what it was like for small town girl Adele to stand on the stone steps of mighty Yale and caress them just to feel closer to her father. In fact, Prasad's writing shines in her scene descriptions; her clearly meticulous research, though, sometimes comes off as a bit heavy and is incorporated awkwardly in parts, but is always full of interesting tidbits--great for an information geek like me.
Prasad succeeds in ushering the reader into Adele’s everyday world, one in which she is stifled by so many characteristics over which she has no control; I can feel the constriction of Adele's breasts bound under her clothes every day. This emotional connection with Adele's struggle turns this story, in which this young girl learns about herself, her intelligence, her talents, and her sexuality, into an inspirational tale as well.
Some could criticize that since the book is set in a time long-past, its applicability to modern life is a bit strained. Prasad effectively eases this disconnect, though, by creating a cameo for one of history's great women, Amelia Earhart--a timeless heroine. And so, Prasad's basic message of believing in your abilities and working hard despite obstacles transcends period or place.
I can't end my review, though, without mentioning the character who stuck with me even after having finished the book: Adele’s mother. She is rather inconsistent--sometimes showing outright hatred for her daughter while other times doting on her like a woman enamored. I still can't decide whether this was character sketching genius or flaw, although I suppose since it's made me consider her inconsistencies more closely after I closed the book, at the very least, I suppose it's a little of both.
I wouldn't mind reading a book featuring this former Philadelphia socialite mother who married an Italian immigrant quarryman--especially as a follow up to On Borrowed Wings.
Overall, I'd give this book 4 espresso cups out of 5 and look forward to reading Prasad's second effort.
*On this, the 6th anniversary of 9/11/2001, my thoughts are with the victims and survivors of the events of that horrible day.
I urge all my readers to watch "Loose Change" if you haven't already and read what the government has to say in the 9/11 Commission Report. That day changed the world along with millions of lives, and the only thing I know for certain is that we deserve to know the truth.
Information is a good (and patriotic) thing.