Lenny's development from childhood to adolescence concurs with India's independence from Britain and the partitioning of India into India and Pakistan. The interwoven plots give each other substantial meaning. Partly because Lenny's family are Parsees, a religious and ethnic minority that remained relatively neutral in post-Partition religious conflicts, she has access to people of all ethnicities and religions, both within Lahore and in other locales. More significantly, she has access to a wide variety of viewpoints both pre-and post-Partition through her Ayah, a beautiful woman whose suitors are ethnically and religiously diverse.

Lenny's passionate love of Ayah and the loss of innocence that accompanies their changing relationship through the Partition is an energetic center to the plot. Lenny's relationships with her mother, her powerful godmother, and her sexually invasive cousin are also important to the novel. Lenny's polio forms a significant early narrative thread. Other minor but compelling subplots include Lenny's parents' changing relationship, the murder of a British official, and the child marriage of the much-abused daughter of one of Lenny's family's servants.


This is a story in which individuals and their community identities are inseparable, a story of emerging nations as well as a story of single characters. Not only Lenny, but everyone in this novel experiences substantial change in the context of the Partition. Ayah's traumatic transformation at the hands of Ice-Candy-Man, the suitor who finally possesses her, and Ice-Candy-Man's own moral erosion through the Partition, figure the situation of all people involved in the ill-planned Partition, which resulted in migration, deaths, and incidents of rape and torture, all on a massive scale.

The links between individuals and nations are emphasized both by multiple plots and points of view. Specifically, while Lenny is the clear protagonist and narrator for most of the novel, Ranna, a Muslim child whose experiences were particularly violent and traumatic, tells his own story. A significant aspect of the novel is the marginality of Britain and the Raj in the plot; colonialism sets this trauma in place, but postcolonial characters are its focus.

The novel's pervasive focus on embodiment, particularly eros and aggression communicated through the body, both figures the problem of the transformed national body of India/Pakistan and works on a more literal level. Early in the novel, several passages evoke Lenny's experiences as a polio patient, her enjoyment of the distinction of her disability, and the ways polio affects her role within her family and wider social sphere.

The fact that polio vanishes as a plotline is both disappointing and interesting: Lenny's failure to focus on disability during adolescence overturns stereotypes about disabled girls' exclusion from the social/sexual culture of adolescence. Like so much else in this novel, Sidhwa's treatment of polio is emphatically and refreshingly local, focused on the way daily life goes on in its particular, individual ways in the context of large-scale political conflicts and received notions about bodies and identities.

The novel is semi-autobiographical; Sidhwa also acknowledges a friend for Ranna's story. The 1998 film version of the novel, Earth, provides enough differences in emphasis to generate interesting classroom discussion. Another productive comparison is with Salman Rushdie's magical realist novel Midnight's Children, in which the Partition also looms large.


Originally published in the U.K. as Ice-Candy Man (London: Heinemann. 1988). Sidhwa collaborated with Indian expatriate Deepa Mehta on a film version, Earth (1998).


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