Title: Climbing the Stairs
Author: Padma Venkatraman
Release Date: May 1, 2008
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen/YA
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Vidya is a fifteen year old girl living in Bombay during World War II. Her father, a doctor, is a supporter of the Indian independence movement and subscribes to Gandhi’s doctrine of ahimsa, or nonviolence. Vidya wants more for herself than the traditional role of an Indian woman. She fears marriage because she wants her freedom and to continue studying, rather than becoming a housewife. When tragedy strikes her family and their circumstances change drastically, Vidya is unsure whether she will ever find happiness.
I’d heard very good things about Padma Venkatraman’s Climbing the Stairs, and after reading it, I can completely understand why. Venkatraman seamlessly blends historical details with social commentary and an endearing main character, making this book both interesting and impossible to put down.
I simply loved the character of Vidya. I loved the way her mind worked, and how fiercely independent she was. She wanted more for herself and wasn’t content with what she was handed in life. She fought for what she believed in, but at the same time, she was cognizant that what she did affected others. I also appreciated how passionate she was. I really loved getting to know her in this novel; Venkatraman wrote Vidya with an expert hand.
Venkatraman deals with a lot of serious issues in Climbing the Stairs, but manages to refrain from making it a heavy, burdensome novel. From the plight of women in India to the discussions about the British treatment of Indian citizens, Venkatraman doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of life back then. It is these issues that Vidya must grapple with and try to understand on a daily basis.
I also appreciated that Venkatraman highlighted the role of India during World War II. She exposes some little-known facts about India’s involvement and makes sure to make it a central part of the novel. As a result, the reader comes away feeling like they’ve learned something new.
Climbing the Stairs may be a short book, but it’s a powerful one. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading this novel, and cannot wait to see what Venkatraman does next.