Keeping Corner Summary

Kashmira Sheth

Keeping Corner

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Keeping Corner Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth.

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth.

Keeping Corner is a 2007 YA historical fiction novel from Indian American writer Kashmira Sheth. It chronicles the change in circumstances for a wealthy young girl when she is unexpectedly widowed early into her marriage. According to Indian customs of her time, she is forced to isolate herself and dedicate the rest of her life to mourning her husband. Sheth spent her childhood in Bhavangar and Mumbai, and later moved to the US for her college degree. She is the author of multiple books for children and young adults, including Blue Jasmine and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet.

In the novel’s beginning, Leela is 12 years old, living in a rural village of India in 1918. She is a member of the Bhramin caste, born to privilege and luxury. She is a spoiled and self-centered girl, caring little about the mounting tensions between her fellow people and the occupying British colonists. Nor does she care for schoolwork. She spends her days preening and admiring her own loveliness in the mirror.

She is, in part, a product of her times and her culture: her entire young life has built towards her marriage and status. Leela was engaged at the age of two and has been married since the age of nine. In keeping with custom, she has remained with her family for the past three years. Now, at last, she prepares to move in to her husband’s household and live fully as his wife.

Sudden tragedy strikes when she learns Ramanal is dead from a snakebite. She has never lived with him, and hardly knew him at all. But tradition demands that she set her life aside for widowhood. She must shave her head and restrict herself to dull, plain clothes rather than the brightly-colored saris she loves. Worse, she is expected to “keep corner,” isolating herself for a full year of mourning. When the year is up, her mourning does not end: all Leela can look forward to now is lifelong solitude. As a widow, she will be shunned by society, cut off from privilege, and expected to never remarry or have a family of her own. Widowhood is for life.

Spoiled Leela is frustrated by the changes, finding them pointless. However, she has little choice but to obey. Her father is strict and forces her to submit to tradition. Her brother Kanubhai, however, is more compassionate. He talks the family into letting her have a tutor during her year of keeping corner. Now, far from being isolated, Leela has a chance to learn about the larger world.

Sabiven, the principal of the village school, agrees to tutor Leela. He is progressive, encouraging her to reflect on her surroundings and on her life. Sabiven has her read the newspaper to gain an understanding of global news and issues and helps her make real academic progress. Discouraged from beauty and selfishness, Leela moves away from her thoughtless childhood. She applies herself and finds meaning in her studies for the first time.

Leela does face frustration and setbacks. She envies her cousin Shani, who is beautiful, accomplished, kind, and married to a wealthy husband. Unlike widowed Leela, Shani enjoys all the benefits and privileges of being a rich man’s wife. At first, Leela can’t stand her. She embodies all the things Leela has given up, all the things that are now forever out of reach for her. In time, Shani’s kindness gets through to Leela, and the two become closer, despite the difference in their circumstances.

Leela begins to grasp the ways that the world at large is changing. Her studies open her eyes to the consequences of India’s long-standing drought, and the burden on local farmers left unable to pay the taxes levied by the British. She begins to hear about a man named Ghandi who practices satyagraha, or non-violent protest, against both the British and India’s oppressive caste system—a system Leela has benefited from all her life.

When Leela’s year of keeping corner nears its end, Kanubhai suggests a way out for Leela. He wants to help her break the traditions of widowhood and get a chance to live independently, rather than wasting her life as an outcast. Kanubhai has been living in the city, studying at a boarding school. He wants Leela to come with him and do the same, so she can make her own way in the world. But both of them know that their father will be fiercely opposed.

A year of studying has changed Leela. She has learned how to be articulate and persuasive. When she gathers the courage to speak to her father, she succeeds against all odds in making him see her perspective. He agrees to let her take an entrance examination for a school in the city. She will become a part of a new and less-restrictive India.

Keeping Corner received a starred review from the School Library Journal, which praised the book’s “strong protagonist” and “unusual historical perspective.” The book was an Honor recipient of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Children and Young Adults, and won the Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Book Award.