Home > 2000, 21st Century, Indian Literature, Novel, Sen Selina > A Mirrors Greens in Spring by Selina Sen – New Delhi in the 1980s

A Mirrors Greens in Spring by Selina Sen – New Delhi in the 1980s

A Mirror Greens in Spring by Selina Sen (2007) French title: Après la mousson. Translated by Dominique Goy-Blanquet.

A Mirror Greens in Spring is an Indian book by Selina Sen. Set in New Delhi in the early 1980s, it focuses on the lives of two sisters, Chandrayee “Chhobi” and Sonali. We are in a Bengali household where the two young women live with their widowed mother and their grand-parents.

The grandfather is very nostalgic of his youth. He had to leave his hometown after the partition of India and Pakistan. He’s from Bangladesh and he chose to stay in India but he never truly healed and still feel in exile.

Chhobi is 25 and Sonali is 19. The two sisters have very different personalities, due to a different education. When Chhobi was a young girl, their father died and she stayed in a Catholic boarding school when Sonali went back to New Delhi with their mother.

Chhobi is more studious and loves history. She works for a magazine in Delhi and writes pieces about various historical places of the city. She wants to have a PhD in Indian history. She’s the serious one, taking care of her sister and behaving responsibly. As she’s already 25, their intrusive neighbour, Mrs Chatterjee, wonders why she doesn’t have any prospect of marriage yet. But Chhobi enjoys being single and doesn’t seem eager to get married. She’s intelligent, grounded and her good sense brings a good support to her family. Her boss, Rosemary, encourages her to follow her dreams and not give up for family reasons.

Sonali is the frivolous one. She’s gorgeous, spoilt and self-centred. Her only interests in life are clothes, jewels and parties. She’s naïve and since she’s so pretty, her grandmother, the real master of the house, hopes for a rich marriage. So, when Sonali sneaks out of the house to meet her wealthy boyfriend Sonny, her mother and grandmother turn a blind eye. The inevitable happens: Sonny’s family has already chosen someone else for their son…

The first part of the book is pretty standard. Two girls with opposite characters, a cautious one and a reckless one. I thought that the plot was a classic déjà-vu and I almost stopped reading. The second part moved past the jilted poor girl part of the plot and became more suspenseful and I’m glad I didn’t abandon it.

Overall, I enjoyed A Mirror Greens in the Spring but I thought there were too many descriptions of places, flowers, dishes, saris and of the weather. It felt written for an international public who doesn’t live in India. The descriptions happened at odd moments, as if a tourist guide jack-in-the-box popped up to give details and it broke my reading flow. It did make me want to learn how to cook Bengali cuisine though, everything sounded delicious!

India is a complex country for foreigners and I didn’t get the Bengali vs Panjabi comments from the characters. Sonali got on my nerves because I have little patience for spoilt princesses. I rooted for Chhobi and hoped she wouldn’t sacrifice her dreams to take care of her vapid sister and support her family.

Selina Sen takes us to a cultured household who struggles to make ends meet. We see three generations of women and the toll that widowhood puts on the girls’ mother. The book is set at the time Indira Gandhi was assassinated and I wonder why the author chose this time and place for her novel written in 2007. Politics has little to do with the story but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam movement appears in the plot. Selina Sen mentions the historical wounds that people still carry with them, the partition between India and Pakistan in 1947, the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971, terrorism in Sri Lanka.

In the end, I enjoyed A Mirror Greens in the Spring for the sense of displacement, for taking me away from my home and drop me into another country, into another culture.

  1. June 10, 2020 at 10:27 am

    I love the fact that books can take you to a different place and time, but like you I don’t want that difference signposted in flashing neon with touristy descriptions! And I have no patience with spoiled princesses either…

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 10, 2020 at 9:26 pm

      Sometimes it’s useful but here, I thought there were too many descriptions.
      After a few books from India, I’m starting to pick things about the culture and that’s good. The next books will be easier to read.

      Like

  2. June 10, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    Hmmm, I wonder if it was written with a Western audience in mind or if it was ‘added to’ when it got published abroad… It seems publishers believe we want the exoticism of certain places spelt out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 10, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      I have the French translation, who knows if it is based on the original English or an enhanced version for foreigners. Do publishers really do that? Ask for a “Western audience” version of books?

      The second part of the book was definitely better and all in all, I liked it well-enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 11, 2020 at 10:41 am

        All the time – especially American audiences! They tend to translate even British books to make them more palatable to American readers.

        Like

        • June 12, 2020 at 7:45 am

          Really?! They translate British books too?

          It always surprises me the liberties that people take with books as a works of art. No one would ask a painter to alter their painting or would alter a painting before an exhibition abroad to accomodate the local public.

          And yet, for books, it’s acceptable. The fact that a book is a work of art that is reproducible doesn’t make its original form less “sacred”.

          Liked by 1 person

          • June 12, 2020 at 10:00 am

            OK, I have to admit that I made some changes (mainly cuts of certain chapters) to Sword. The French edition did as well. There were some chapters which would not have made any sense to a non-Romanian reader (with dialect, accents etc.) and they didn’t move the story forward much anyway.

            Like

            • June 12, 2020 at 10:56 pm

              Was the author OK with it?

              Like

              • June 13, 2020 at 3:18 pm

                Yes, absolutely. I’ll be translating a second book by him and made some suggestions – and he is actually rewriting it. I hope it doesn’t make me sound like I am trying to fit something different into a strict mould, but there are some things that need too much of an explanation for a foreign audience and so detract from the story and the style.

                Like

              • June 14, 2020 at 9:55 pm

                As long as the author is ok with it, it’s great. It’s still strange to think that I don’t read the same version of the book as Romanians. And possibly, the French translation is not the same as the English one, and not only because of the language.

                Like

              • June 15, 2020 at 10:02 pm

                I followed the French translation on the whole (in terms of a few chapters which got cut), but there were some additions I made and other bits I left out – so yes, it’s three different versions, basically.

                Like

              • June 18, 2020 at 8:33 pm

                I guess that the French translation was well done, then? It’s good to know.

                Like

  3. June 12, 2020 at 6:10 am

    One of the attractions of Australian books in the C19th was their exotic local colour. India is a big market on it’s own, but perhaps this one was intended for the international market so the exotic was emphasized. There are still too few books with strong independent women, so that is a good thing; and perhaps the book was set 40 years back so that Partition was still a lived experience. Whatever their prime minister might wish, India is still far from monolithic and it is good to be reminded of that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 12, 2020 at 10:55 pm

      I liked Chhobi, her modernity and her silent attitude. She doesn’t make a lot of noise but she sticks to her guns.
      One of the advantages of the educational paragraphs is that they give valuable info.
      The grandpa is also a well drawn character, his nostalgy for his birth place is touching.
      I’m slowly making connections between Indian books I’ve read and the common topics raised. The Partition is one of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Vishy
    June 17, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    This looks very interesting, Emma! I haven’t heard of this book before. Glad to know that the book becomes better in the second part. Your comment about the author suddenly digressing away from the story and spending time on descriptions of Indian food and culture, made me smile ☺️ Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. August 3, 2020 at 8:30 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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