NAMING MAYA by Uma Krishnaswami. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Hardcover, 192 pages.

This touching story of family troubles and politics allows us to view the aftermath of a painful divorce through the eyes of a child.

Maya wishes her parents were back together and blames herself for their divorce. Maya reluctantly accompanies her to Chennai where her mother is trying to sell a house. To entertain herself, she takes her camera and clicks away at the many sights that fascinate her. She befriends her family’s old cook, Kamala Mami, and finds a soulmate in Sumati, her cousin.

Soon, through friends and family, Maya realizes that there’s more to her parents’ divorce: the rift began with the choice of Maya’s name. Maya also discovers that her paternal grandparents disapproved of her mother and did not support the marriage.

Through Maya’s inner turmoil, Krishnaswami gives us a peek into a child’s hurt and misunderstandings after a divorce, and the gradual healing process. Maya discovers that both she and her mother have been bottling up their emotions since the split. By the end of the Chennai stay, Maya’s strained relationship with her mother is on the mend.

Naming Maya captures the essence of Chennai. It talks about how everyone in Chennai pretends to know one another, starting from the way they address each other on the road. There are images like the 45B bus and the Aavin milk stands dotting the city. Kamala Mami is the classic Chennai servant (cook, housekeeper, and doting companion).

The transformation of Maya’s mother—from detached to caring—is not smooth. The author could have explored the characters of Maya’s parents further. Despite these shortcomings, Krishnaswami weaves a unique story that will hold your interest till the end. The realistic characters and intricate plot will move people of all ages. —Pavithra Mohan