I've been afraid of the hefty books lately, but upon realizing that Karma by Cathy Ostlere (clocking in at a substantial 517 pages) is a verse novel, I decided to take a chance.
I'm glad I did.
Maya, a Canadian fifteen-year-old with one Hindi and one Sikh parent, is traveling to India with her father. Her mother recently committed suicide and they are heading to her homeland to deliver her ashes. What sounds like an already sad, emotional tale is augmented by the historical reality. Maya and her father are flying to India on October 31, 1984. The night they arrive is the same night that Indira Gandhi is assassinated and the India they find is one filled with chaos. Her father's Sikh heritage puts him at risk and in the rioting and random acts of violence that follow, he and Maya are separated. I don't want to say much more and give away key points of the plot, but let it be known that this book is also an epic love story that reminded me at times of the book (and film) The English Patient.
What made this book a magical experience for me was the heartbreaking honesty in the poems. Maya's father and mother had their own sort of epic love story. Their marriage was, unlike others in their home country, not arranged. And beyond that, they came from different traditions (Sikh and Hindu). The only way they could be together was to leave India. Unfortunately, leaving everything they knew behind had an unimaginable affect on Maya's mother and contributed to her depression. The poems explore such a wide territory, providing achingly sad background information on Maya's parents as well as relentless action scenes as Maya runs through the streets of New Delhi searching for her father.
Recommended for anyone who likes to travel through reading and fans of epic love stories. 4/5 Stars.
Okay, might as well take a stab at the food analogy. This book is like the vegetarian plate from Rajun Cajun in Chicago (the best Indian-Soul Food restaurant I've ever eaten at). It has a little bit of everything and many flavors. Like this meal, it left me wanting to return and dine on it again. But also, like a meal from Rajun, I know it isn't the best Indian food ever. As much as I liked this book, I'm not sure it will be an enduring favorite. But it's one I savored nonetheless.