The story is set in the matrilineal society of Nairs in the southern Indian state of Kerala. The protagonist Appunni, always felt a grudge towards his mother because she deemed to marry of her own will and because of this, was expelled from her family. This meant that he, Appunni could not get the privileges awarded to a member of the large family and he could not live in the large manor (Naalukettu) but had to slum it with his mother. While the other kids in the family thrived and got excellent opportunities, Appunni didnt. He, despite being bright had to struggle for fees for his education and several times his food.
That is where the selfless character of Parukutty shines through. After her husband's murder, she takes up any job that is available, mostly like pounding rice into flour and such tasks. A girl who never had worked a day, growing up, had developed callouses on her palms putting her son through school so that he makes a life for himself.
Appunni has a falling out with his mother and the story is about his self discovery, as he deals with feudal lords and aspires to be accepted in his rightful ancestral home. It was a beautiful novel. Knowing how poetic Malayalam tends to be, I believe the novel must have been a gem in the native language.
I still think about Parukutty and all the Parukuttys in the world and wonder what makes them what they are.