Leela's Book by Alice Albinia
A Novel

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“Steeped in the tradition of the Indian epic, yet modern and vastly entertaining.”—The Times (London)

In her fiction debut, Alice Albinia weaves a multithreaded epic tale that encompasses divine saga and familial discord and introduces an unforgettable heroine. Leela—alluring, taciturn, haunted—is moving from New York back to Delhi. Worldly and accomplished, she has been in self-imposed exile from India and her family for decades; twenty-two years earlier, her sister was seduced by the egotistical Vyasa, and the fallout from their relationship drove Leela away. Now an eminent Sanskrit scholar, Vyasa is preparing for his son’s marriage. But when Leela arrives for the wedding, she disrupts the careful choreography of the weekend, with its myriad attendees and their conflicting desires.

Gleefully presiding over the drama is Ganesh—divine, elephant-headed scribe of the Mahabharata, India’s great epic. The family may think they have arranged the wedding for their own selfish ends, but according to Ganesh it is he who is directing events—in a bid to save Leela, his beloved heroine, from Vyasa. As the weekend progresses, secret online personas, maternal identities, and poetic authorships are all revealed; boundaries both religious and continental are crossed; and families are ripped apart and brought back together in this vibrant and brilliant celebration of family, love, and storytelling.

About Alice Albinia

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Alice Albinia's honors include a Somerset Maugham Award, the Royal Society of Literature / Jerwood Prize, and the Dolman Travel Prize 2009. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, the Financial Times, and elsewhere. She lives in England.
Published January 9, 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company. 433 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Leela's Book

Kirkus Reviews

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He summarizes the original epic while explaining how its composer Vyasa, Vyasa’s second wife Meera, the slave girl Leela whom Vyasa impregnated and a slew of secondary characters have reappeared through the ages, reliving the original story of egotism, sexual conquest and intrigue, as well as lov...

Jan 09 2012 | Read Full Review of Leela's Book: A Novel

The Guardian

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When Meera first began dating Vyasa, her professor, she convinced Leela to relinquish her bourgeois mores and sleep with him too, and Leela's tryst shattered the siblings' relationship.

Jul 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Leela's Book: A Novel

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Alice Albinia's fascinating travelogue, Empires of the Indus, traversed more than two thousand miles of riverbank and several milennia of south Asian history.

Feb 16 2012 | Read Full Review of Leela's Book: A Novel

Portland Book Review

Ganesh, elephant-headed god, scribe/author of the Mahabharata, sometime narrator of Leela’s Book tells us Leela’s soul has been connected to the others’ through numerous reincarnations.

May 21 2012 | Read Full Review of Leela's Book: A Novel


The frame of Leela’s Book is this relationship: in Albinia’s book, Ganesha takes issue with Vyasa’s claims of authorship and credits himself with a larger role in the composition of the epic, while the modern-day Vyasa makes it the subject of his scholarship to deny Ganesha’s existence and role i...

Jun 26 2011 | Read Full Review of Leela's Book: A Novel

Newcity Lit

At the wedding, while the wedding party sits on a dais, the sister of the groom boldly darts under a table and has sex with a relative stranger, bragging about being “polyandrous, like Draupadi in the ‘Mahabharata.’” Albinia writes like a cross between Zadie Smith and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, crea...

Mar 08 2012 | Read Full Review of Leela's Book: A Novel

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