Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

October 12, 2008
In Climbing the Stairs, Padma Venkatraman writes about the struggles one young girl faces in the midst of political and social conflicts in India during World War II. Following the thoughts, dreams, and hopes of fifteen-year old Vidya, this debut novel was fascinating. It has captivated teens and adults since its inception in early 2008.

The story begins in the 1940's with Vidya longing to attend college but in her era, it is unusual. As she travels to town with her father, Vidya summons the strength to share her dream with him. Surprisingly, Vidya's father ensures she will be able to pursue her dream. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes her father, uprooting Vidya, her parents, and her brother, Kitta from the lives they have known. Forced to move, they must submit to the customs, traditions, and authority of the orthodox grandfather and the rigid rules of his home.

Being treated as lowly servants, Vidya and her mother are bound to the first floor, segregated from the men. Desolate in her new environment, Vidya finds her only solace in the homes' forbidden library and the dream she still holds in her heart. She longs to not be placed in an arranged marriage as dictated by the culture, but go to college, “…so I can make (my) dreams of the future come true.”

The characters in this novel are very compelling, yet complex. Climbing the Stairs steers us through the intricate lives of Vidya's family. This is a family where ideas and beliefs often clash and opposite paths are chosen. Vidya and her father, like Gandhi, the leader of the world's nonviolent movement, felt strongly that killing another human was wrong: “...the end doesn't justify the means, and (we) think war should never be a means to any end.” Kitta however, struggles with the complexities that war brings. Driven by his desire to make a difference, he claims, “…We can't afford to wait any longer if we want to preserve the future of humanity.”

Readers feel the weight of Vidya's burdens throughout the book. She continually thinks back to the day her father was injured, believing she was the one to blame for the accident. Wishing she could change the course of events, Vidya continued to ponder the “what ifs” in her life.

Padma Venkatraman purposely wrote Climbing the Stairs for teens and adults. Padma navigates the reader through many historical facts but the book is still easy to understand. The plot is sensational, giving an excellent glimpse of life during World War II for a young Hindu girl. The book captivates, allowing the readers to become engrossed in the lives of Vidya and her family.

Having a hard time prying the book from their grasp, readers will be absorbed in this heart-wrenching novel. Themes of Hinduism, feminism, politics, prejudice, war, peace, and the struggle for independence are woven together beautifully by Padma. The novel allows the reader to ponder many fundamental questions that the writer leaves intentionally unanswered. The significance of persevering, holding fast to one's beliefs, and remaining courageous in the mist of trials are a few of the lessons that will prick the hearts and minds of the readers of Climbing the Stairs.

Join the Discussion

This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

Smarty123 said...
May 28, 2015 at 9:49 pm
This is probably the best book I have ever read
NgocNie said...
Oct. 15, 2008 at 3:54 am
This young writer has shown that she is very mature and gifted in understanding literature.
Moonbeam60 said...
Oct. 14, 2008 at 10:58 am
Very interesting verbs
AmySquirrel said...
Oct. 14, 2008 at 6:18 pm
Wonderful review!
Shannon110472 said...
Oct. 13, 2008 at 10:12 pm
That was great...I am ready to read the book.
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