Twitter Feed

Follow cchsreads on Twitter

Total Pageviews

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Karma by Cathy Ostlere

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.

Author's website


  1. Wow, first off: gorgeous cover!

    Second: Great review. If a prose novel about another culture wasn't intriguing enough, the historical context seals the deal. I'm putting this on my TBR list immediately.

  2. May 14, 2011


    I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate that you took a chance on Karma. And to even have resonances of The English Patient thrilled me -- as a Canadian writer I am a big fan of Mr. Ondaatje's. Of course, I am delighted that you found Karma magical and honest -- what writer could want more? Karma is an unusual book with an unusual format and it needs to be recommended in order to find its readers. You have done exactly that for me. And I thank you.

    Yours sincerely,

    Cathy Ostlere
    Calgary, Canada

    ps I got a bit hungry while reading you review! I hope to be in Chicago in the fall and now I know where to eat! Thank you!

  3. What a lovely letter from the author!

    We had a comment up here earlier too, but Blogger ate it. :'(

    Anyway, it basically said that if the gorgeous cover and interesting premise wasn't enough, the historical context sealed the deal. We definitely want to read this one. Thanks for bringing it to our attention and writing such a great review!


Twitter Feed

Follow cchsreads on Twitter