BOOK REVIEW: Veena gives them curry

FOR anyone who has a family that does not necessarily do things the way everyone else's does, this book will resonate. Indian mother Veena van der Kwast does not roll in the way Dutch mums do.

She haggles. She yells. She swears in Hindu. She throws household items at her husband, three sons and random guests with disturbing regularity.

Armed with her trusty rolling pin that she is not afraid to use on more than roti, this mum forms the unwavering if slightly bitter and brittle backbone of this Dutch-Indian family.

But she is only one of the interesting characters in Ernest van der Kwast's breakthrough book, Mama Tandoori.

The family saga also explores the nuances of van der Kwast's Dutch father, Bollywood star Uncle Sharma and others.

The story follows the life of the migrant family as they make a home for themselves in Holland.

Fitting in at athletics can be a little tough when ma runs beside her boy, willing him to go faster, every single race.

My sympathy first sat squarely with van der Kwast's Dutch father, a doctor. Henpecked and good at ducking flying household items, he sometimes seems the more sane arm of the family.

But it is the larger-than-life woman who stays with the reader after the last page is finished, along with the author's simple but powerful language.

At first it is hard to like mum, or relate to her bombastic ways.

The author describes his mother's past "as a dark stain” early on. But her own tough upbringing in India, and her undying hope that her disabled oldest son will have a normal life, are slowly revealed.

And her underlying generosity also helps to thaw my initial coldness towards Veena, who has similarities to my own Fijian nanna (not the rolling pin bit, but very much the haggling and definitely the generosity).

For anyone with a family in which culture clash is the norm, this book will strike an endearing chord.

Mama Tandoori made Dutch bestseller lists in 2010, and also made an impact in Italy (where part of the book is set and where the author lived for some time) before being translated into English. The author's other novels include The Ice-Cream Makers, set in northern Italy, and Giovanna's Navel.

Mama Tandoori by Ernest van der Kwast, translated by Lara Vroomen, RRP $29.99 is out now through Scribe.



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