Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sideways on a Scooter - Review

Title:  Sideways on a Scooter
Source: Library

Goodreads Summary:

When twentysomething reporter Miranda Kennedy leaves her job in New York City and travels to India with no employment prospects, she longs to immerse herself in the turmoil and excitement of a rapidly developing country. What she quickly learns in Delhi about renting an apartment as a single woman—it’s next to impossible—and the proper way for women in India to ride scooters—perched sideways—are early signs that life here is less Westernized than she’d counted on.

Living in Delhi for more than five years, and finding a city pulsing with possibility and hope, Kennedy experiences friendships, love affairs, and losses that open a window onto the opaque world of Indian politics and culture—and alter her own attitudes about everything from food and clothes to marriage and family. Along the way, Kennedy is drawn into the lives of several Indian women, including her charismatic friend Geeta—a self-described “modern girl” who attempts to squeeze herself into the traditional role of wife and mother; Radha, a proud Brahmin widow who denies herself simple pleasures in order to live by high-caste Hindu principles; and Parvati, who defiantly chain-smokes and drinks whiskey, yet feels compelled to keep her boyfriend a secret from her family.

In her effort to understand the hopes and dreams that motivate her new friends, Kennedy peels back India’s globalized image as a land of call centers and fast-food chains and finds an ancient place where, in many ways, women’s lives have scarcely changed for centuries. Incisive, witty, and written with a keen eye for the lush vibrancy of the country that Kennedy comes to love, Sideways on a Scooter is both a remarkable memoir and a cultural revelation.

My thoughts:

It has taken me a long time to decide what I wanted to say about this book.  There was just so much to process.  In short, this book is amazing. I picked it up thinking I was going to get just a travel memoir type book, but it was so much more. 

Miranda Kennedy found the soul of India and wrote from there, and wrote about her experiences in a way that those of us who have never visited India before could perfectly picture what was going on.  I felt like I knew her friends, Geeta, Parvati, Radha, Maneesh, Usha, Azmat. And although their lives are very different from mine in many ways, we are all the same, wanting and desiring the same things.

I don’t want to assume that this book depicts totally what life is like in India, I don’t want to make that generalization. But I do think it gives us a closer glimpse through Kennedy’s life there. The contradictions, like Parvati, who was a whiskey drinking, smoking, foul mouthed journalist, modern in many ways, yet secretive about her relationship with her boyfriend; Geeta, struggling between a traditional and modern life and which she really wanted, that  turned out to be somewhere in between. 

Also, in my naivet√© and ignorance, I had no idea that the caste system was still in effect and so powerful. I am embarrassed at my lack of knowledge at this, and reading about what it is like to be of a lower caste, like Maneesh, and your whole life never being able to do more than dispose of waste and dead people, to never hope for more.  Another shocking fact from Kennedy:  one woman dies by fire every hour, mostly daughter-in-laws killed as bride burning, or dowry deaths. When I read this, I had to put the book down for a moment. Just thinking about this gives one pause.  How tragic and sad and horrible. There just aren’t words.

Sideways on a Scooter was not all about the parts of India that they might not want to advertise though. There is a greater sense of community, it seems to me, at least where Miranda lived.  She belonged to a gym for women, where the women mostly sat around and talked to each other, sharing their knowledge and learning from the others. The gym owner found herself researching topics for the women that they didn’t have access to, to help them out- regarding everything under the sun. It was an outlet for them to relax and be themselves.  

This book was just so much, I can’t begin to scratch the surface. I think this is a book anyone should read, I loved every bit and when it ended, I felt a little sad- my journey with Miranda had ended, and with that ending, so did the lives of the women in the book, who shine through the pages and words capturing the reader so that we want to know more about them.  I hope they are all doing well.


  1. I love reading about India. I haven't read this one and after reading your review I know that I HAVE to. Wonderful review!!

    1. Thanks Jennifer! :) I love reading about India as well, and this book was amazing. So good.


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