The Tiniest House of Time is more than a family saga, ranging across continents and decades seamlessly, from colonial Burma in the 1930s to nationalist Malaysia in the 1990s and beyond, to Hong Kong and Australia. In a wonderfully engaging and intimate story-telling style redolent of Amitav Ghosh’s, the reader is thrust into the lives of far-flung middle-class Indian communities: immersed in family and local politics and intimate relationships, swept along in the tide of grand historical events.
The novel is a rare window into a world of untold histories of the voiceless Indian diaspora in places and times where the enemy might be different, but the trauma, prejudice and hatred remain the same. History works in cycles, repeating itself, until we finally understand that everything that has happened, has always already happened.
The story is driven by Iyer’s two main characters, both strong women––Susheela Sastri and Sandhya Sastri––who are grandmother and granddaughter, but could have been born of the same atom. Sandhya visits her grandmother’s deathbed after having run away from her country, her family, her love, and herself. She remembers her grandmother’s stories, of a lost time in Burma, and digs deep to find truth in it. A dying Susheela, impatient with her family’s pity, asks Sandhya to read to her. It opens up past events in both their lives, the family dynamics, the forbidden loves, the politics of who can be hated, when, and by whom… And what can they, as women of their times, actually do about it.
Praise for Sreedhevi and her previous work:
‘The Tiniest House of Time is an intriguing weave of cultures and politics spanning almost a century. It details self-serving colonialists, corrupt and merciless governments and terrifying sectarian violence. But it is first and foremost a love story, chiefly between grandmother and granddaughter but also delineating their respective forays into relationships both platonic and passionate. Sreedhevi Iyer’s prose is delicate. She writes in a voice replete with profound understanding and compassion, bringing to life the various periods and characters which inhabit and people her narrative. At the same time, in her dramatic yarn-spinning, she has created the sort of remarkable momentum that compels readers to keep turning the pages until they reach the last of them. Iyer has taken us on a unique journey. Its words, the lives and the times they evoke will be difficult to forget.’
– Yvonne Fein, author
‘The ever-shifting sands of people and place: who we are and where, are deftly explored by Sreedhevi Iyer in this insightful and charming novel. With sensitivity and subtly, Iyer explores the many shades of the universal ‘I’. No-one has a single, fixed identity, rather we slip between worlds and between roles. How does one reconcile the different people we all are, in different places, in different times, with different people? And what does it mean to know another from the isolation of our own ‘multi-verse’? Susheela and Sandhya are two peas in a pod, grandmother and grand-daughter, they share everything: the same birthdate, the same stars, a connection “on a level quite inexplicable”. But everyone has secrets…’
– Ben Doherty, author
‘The Indian Diaspora has spread across the world, carrying within each family stories and secrets that remain hidden unless prodded by circumstances. In Sreedhevi Iyer’s novelThe Tiniest House of Time, pre-war Burma and post-colonial Malaysia form the bookends of a family saga that brings together a grandmother with stories not yet shared and a granddaughter keen to find and assert herself. Stories that grandmothers tell their grandchildren are meant to comfort and pacify, but as Sandhya Sastri and her grandmother Susheela begin their journey, they make discoveries that shift from the personal to the political, the individual to the collective, and what’s not been told and what must be said.’
– Salil Tripathi, writer and journalist