Excerpt from Booklist, November 15, 1998
…[W]e decided to measure the strength of publishing by gathering together auspicious first novels…. published in the period November 1997 through October 1998…. From this plethora of product, we pulled 20 notable first novels…. ―BONNIE SMOTHERS and BRAD HOPPER, Booklist, November 15, 1998. (Tivolem was one of the 20 novels they picked.)
Excerpt from an earlier Booklist review
Rangel-Ribeiro’s novel, written at the glorious age of 72,… is a gentle, old-fashioned love story…. Village feuds, gossip, and local politics are played out against larger events on the world’s stage in this novel of perfect nostalgia in a nicely evoked setting.
Excerpt from a starred review in the Library Journal, April 1, 1998
Caption under illustration of cover: “A first novel, set in Goa, that comes out on top.”
This engaging first novel by 72-year-old author Victor Rangel-Ribeiro is set in Goa, Portuguese India, between the world wars…. Rangel-Ribeiro has set a vivid scene with a colorful cast of characters, addressing personal and societal turmoil with insight and humor. The result, winner of Milkweed’s annual prize for fiction, is highly recommended for all libraries. ---REBECCA A. STUHR.
Excerpt from Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1998
Longtime US resident Rangel-Ribeiro, a native of Goa who turned to fiction at age 72, debuts with a tale that luminously evokes life in that former Portuguese colony in India.
The pace of this Narayan-like novel is sweetly contemplative, as befits the doings in the small backwater village of Tivolem, where everybody’s business is everybody’s business….
A story to be savored, and winner of the 1998 Milkweed Editions Fiction Prize.
From the New York Times Sunday Book Review, June 5, 1998
Victor Rangel-Ribeiro has waited until his early 70s to offer his own slice of the fertile literary landscape of the subcontinent. His first novel, Tivolem, is set in 1933 in the Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India. Here, in the tiny village that gives the book its title, his characters gather around the lone shortwave radio for news from Europe and even India, reminded by the sirens of distant ships “of oceans ever to be crossed, of events beyond our control.” While the outside world is full of drama, little seems to happen in Tivolem. So it’s all the more exciting when a woman named Marie-Santana returns to the village after the death of her parents in Mozambique (and 23 years after she left as a young girl), trailed by a whiff of scandal and the “very long shadow” of a former fiancé.
Now the town gossips have something to occupy them---and they have even more to talk about when Simon Fernandes, Marie-Santana’s violin-playing neighbor (who has also recently returned from abroad), begins serenading her each night. Ultimately, Simon’s link to the secrets of Marie-Santana’s past helps teach her, as one of the characters puts it, that “our lives themselves are like the crossings and recrossings of a river.” Reflecting this wisdom, the novel ambles along at an unhurried pace, reveling in the small but resonant happenings of a faraway time and place.
Excerpt from an extended review in the Philadelphia Inquirer, November 8, 1998
Victor Rangel-Ribeiro… evokes vivid memories of 1930s Goa in his recent novel, Tivolem, winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize… [It] depicts a Portuguese colony on the verge of realizing its affinity with a larger phenomenon: colonial India in its struggle for independence… It shows a village poised proudly, albeit warily, at the precipice of change.
People return to Tivolem to discover roots, to find solace from their recent pasts, to attempt new beginnings, because it seems unaffected by the hellfires of the outside world….
Rangel-Ribeiro’s Tivolem clearly captures one expatriate’s lustrous memory of home with enormous verisimilitude…. In the increasingly chic territory of Indian fiction marked by Arundhati Roy’s poetic idiosyncrasy and Salman Rushdie’s magic intellectual-ism, Rangel-Ribeiro anchors his debut novel in old-fashioned realism… Tivolem gently evokes the well-made fiction of an earlier age. ---VRINDA CONDILLAC.
Praise from the Indian Press
A quiet, sleepy little village in Goa, Tivolem in the 1930s is steeped in tradition and old-fashioned values…. It is into this world that four outsiders come, outsiders from as varied places as Kuala Lumpur, Nairobi, the Persian Gulf, outsiders who have roots in Tivolem that go back a long way, and are back to make a life for themselves here once again….
All of them have a mysterious past, something they wish to conceal. All of them seek solace in the native land, to embrace the past and become one with the village. And as they make inroads into the past, weaving changes into the old pattern, the village itself has an impact on their lives. And in this symbiotic relationship, where the past weaves into the present, the old into the new, a tale of a small village and its villagers, with all the colours of Goa, comes to life.
---DB, The Statesman, Delhi and Calcutta, July 8, 1998.
Rangel-Ribeiro draws an evocative and delightful picture of rural life in Goa…. Laced with gentle humour, and in elegant prose, Rangel-Ribeiro unveils his many stories subtly and with self-effacing charm. ----MANOHAR SHETTY, Gentleman, Mumbai, August 1998.
A taut, linear narrative…. Rangel-Ribeiro’s character delineation is near-perfect. He portrays the village folk in all their idiosyncrasies…. Humour and verbal virtuosity make Tivolem a truly engrossing read.
---PRIYANKA SINGH, Tribune, Mumbai, September 13, 1998.
Rangel-Ribeiro never strikes a false note. These are his people, this is his land, and he knows them well…. Tivolem comes alive with fine detail…. A nice pleasant read to lull you on a hammock beneath soughing palms and a gentle sea breeze. ---ASHOK BANKER, Outlook, Mumbai, September 21, 1998.
Excerpt from a five-page assessment of Victor Rangel-Ribeiro’s work in South Asian Novelists in English---An A to Z Guide, edited by Jaina C. Sanga. Greenwood Press, 2003.
Tivolem describes the unfolding lives of the people in an imaginary village in Goa, and is perhaps the only major novel in English to be set in the heart of the “other” raj in India: the centuries-old Portuguese colony of Goa. Readers are by now quite familiar with novels in/about India that trace British oppression and brutality; thus, it is very refreshing to read about this other India that seems at once removed and enmeshed in the affairs of the world. This slender connectivity is gently underscored because the novel, set between the two world wars, recounts the first rumblings of anticolonialist revolutions in pre-Independence India vis-à-vis the major political tensions erupting in Europe. The primary thrust of the novel is to create a mood around a sense of place and reveal another facet of India that is part, yet apart, from the world… Tivolem, I would argue, is subtly crafted and rehearses more than multicultural diversity.
The paradoxical pull of distance and engagement that mediates events between Tivolem and the rest of the world becomes visible through the novel’s neorealist style and its author’s astutely ironic humor. This neorealism gently splashes against the readers’ sensibilities and drives the novel’s actions in almost the same manner that the Mandovi River’s tides move boats and small ships as they ferry the various characters about. Some reviewers have likened Rangel-Ribeiro’s style to R. K. Narayan’s realist mode, but Tivolem is closer to Mulk Raj Anand’s or Anita Desai’s style, both of whom, the author admits, have had an impact on him. Even as it presents a romance between Marie-Santana and Simon Fernandes, Tivolem describes the complex cultural, religious, and political lives of Indian families in a Portuguese colonial setting, situated as they are on the cusp of tradition and modernity. From a canonical perspective, the novel reminds one of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which too is structured on the cusp of Victorian and Edwardian culture, reveals labor upheavals, and raises political, gender, and class questions under the guise of a love story between Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw.
Rangel-Ribeiro tackles various, complex themes in the novel. Some of these are the meaning of diaspora, as articulated through the language of rootedness and rootlessness; strategies of colonial insurgence, elaborated through satirical exchanges between characters; feminine subjectivity, illustrated through strong matriarchal figures such as Dona Elena and Dona Esmeralda and through the courageous heroine, Marie-Santana; and the role and status of Christianity as a disciplinary mechanism in the colony, symbolized through the figure of Father Mascarenhas, who has a Latin phrase or quotation for every occasion. The novel’s plot, which unfolds both according to calendar months and to seasons like “Monsoons, 1933,” can also be compared to the paintings of European masters such as Antoine Watteau. Watteau’s Seasons, for example, inaugurated the technique of portraying human passions and desires through a tableau of actors painted inside oval frames. Such experimentation, critics agree, allowed Watteau to move beyond linking earthly nature to human nature (which was the standard practice) to painting provocatively nuanced passionate moments.
Finally, the novel’s use of music as a metaphor of hope and despair, in the hands of the hero Simon Fernandes, is also worthy of critical attention. One theme―of human connectivity―is dramatized through a bridge on the edge of town as a crucial trope―both literally and figuratively―for informing the reader of some of the major debates and controversies of the day. Here, some of the primary characters discuss local and global news gathered by Senhor Eusebio, the owner of the only shortwave radio in the village. The bridge signals the tenuous connections between Portuguese and British India and between the trivial affairs of the here and now of Tivolem and the turbulent events occurring in Europe and America around this momentous time in world history. Such a narrative strategy allows readers to glimpse another side of the nation, wherein the stresses and strains of Portuguese rule, a lesser-known colonial force, impacts the lives of its subjects. The bridge also serves as the platform ground for the author to engage the reader in conversations about postcolonial issues pertaining to the hierarchy of colonized nations in the race for modernity, without belaboring the point. This light touch allows the author to use and critically deploy older vocabularies of postcolonial discourse in a contemporary, cosmopolitan, context….
Tivolem is a layered narrative, rich in texture and full of sharp humor, which merits greater attention.
Excerpt from a three-page review in South Asian Literature in English: An Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press, 2004
Life in Tivolem is quiet, punctuated only by the excitement of events in the world outside its rice fields…. Dialog between the characters is consistently piquant, rife with the peculiar idiom that only small-town living can bestow upon its inhabitants’ tongues, and hence always just on the verge of amusement. Noteworthy, too, is the novelist’s wit, his pervasive sense of humor, and the tolerance with which he looks upon the village scoundrels, all of whom, of course, are lovable crooks. What is most fascinating is the interiority of the characters themselves who remain blissfully oblivious to the fact that they are a source of great comic effects….
Much in the form of a medieval morality play, many of the characters represent some vice or virtue of human nature. But the author has handled them with such skill that they never degenerate into cardboard conceptions of abstract qualities; rather, they are superbly fleshed out to become individuals about whose outcomes we do begin to care….
…[A]n unraveling of the mysteries that surround the former lives of the main protagonists helps us to see how they were connected long before they first met, and teaches us, as one of the characters puts it, that “our lives themselves are like the crossings and recrossings of a river.” This is the philosopy that lies beneath the affairs of the motley lot that make up the funny and fascinating world of Victor Rangel-Ribeiro’s Tivolem. ---ROCHELLE ALMEIDA.