"History begins only at the point where things go wrong; history is born only with trouble, with perplexity, with regret," wrote Graham Swift in Waterland, a line that acts as the epigraph to Preeta Samarasan's wistful debut novel.
There is indeed much going wrong in the troubled lives of these vivid characters, who are battling with both political and personal strife in Malaysia. The novel begins with a departure, as 18 year-old Uma leaves for New York, after which her six-year-old sister Aasha's "heart cracked and cried out in protest" – a heart which must also bear the loss of her grandmother.
There is much perplexity, too: the "Big House" where the Rajasekharan family lives is a moral maze of ambiguity shrouded in secrecy, above all about the mysterious dismissal of the servant girl.
It is the pervasive note of regret, however, which Samarasan captures most effectively; the painful dawning of realisation for these characters that there is no turning back. The prose could have been pruned of its breathless rush of adjectives, but this is nevertheless a promising and passionate new voice.