Adult Fiction

(Published under pseudonym Rachna Mara)

cover of Of Customs and Excise by Rachna Gilmore

Of Customs and Excise

Second Story Press, 1991

A collection of inter-connected stories of women whose lives are woven together in a clash of cultures, class and race. From India to England to Canada, these women, striving to escape the confines of traditions and duties, become irrevocably linked across oceans and decades.

In India, there’s Parvati, terrified that the secret of her pregnancy will be discovered by her new mother-in-law. There’s Bridget, the British doctor whose struggle with a local Indian doctor almost leads to disaster for Parvati. There’s Bridget’s servant, Asha, resilient, manipulative and tormented - she will survive at any cost.

And years later, in Canada, there’s Mala, Parvati’s baby, now a teenager, trying to free herself from the choking strands of customs that bind her. A web of stories, about women struggling to realize their desires and needs.

Awards & Honours

  • Short-listed: Ottawa-Carleton Book Award, 1993

  • Short-listed: Best First Book, 1992 Commonwealth Book Awards, Canada and Caribbean region

Reviews

“...Mara expertly interweaves the landscape of a small village in India with the Western worlds of Canada and England. Her sharply drawn characters are mainly Indian and mainly women, but they are of different ages, backgrounds and status levels....The power of each woman’s experience is increased as Mara deftly works them into a whole, creating a world in which all individuals are struggling to escape, or at least loosen, the ties of race, class, sex, society and family.”

Quill & Quire, January 1992

“Each of the stories in Rachna Mara’s new collection is akin to sampling courses in an exotic meal: unfamiliar, fascinating, sometimes delicate or heavy, and ending with a sweet tang not found in ordinary food... The author writes with the intensity of poetry and the immediacy of conversation... This book invites comparison with other stories of women who have crossed borders...like Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners, Joy Kogawa’s Obasan...”

Edmonton Journal, February 2, 1992

“...deftly constructed and superbly written.... Mara’s keen observation of life in both India and Canada, her ability to create fascinating, complex characters and her obvious sense of plot and timing add up to only one thing: she owes us a novel.”

North Shore News, June 1992