BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
Shiva’s Arms (The Book Depository)
BOOK REVIEW: Compelling. While Shiva’s Arms is a story steeped in culture clash, at its heart it is a universal story about the power of family.
“When the Sambashivans ordered the unsuitable bride and family black sheep back to India, the couple had to obey, tumbling from their brass bed on the appointed morning to dress in love beads, batik, and peace sign jewelry.”
The unsuitable bride is a blonde American named Alice and the family black sheep her Indian husband who’s made a life for himself in America, Ramesh Sambashivan. Cheryl Snell tells the story of these characters in third person, as they find themselves enveloped in a storm of cultural identity dilemmas and familial obligations. The epicentre of this storm is the family matriarch, or ‘Amma’ whose name is Shiva, all-seeing and all-powerful like her namesake. Just like the colonial powers, this feisty old lady does not let international borders hamper her rule.
At less than 200 pages, this novel’s narrative covers a lot of ground moving at a cracking pace and Snell’s powerful use of symbolism draws the reader into the character’s world reminiscent of the way Alice in Wonderland fell in the rabbit hole. Snell explores the both the helplessness one can feel in the face of oppressive cultural norms and the supportive power and nurturing qualities of that culture. Intriguing and heartening for me is the illustration that at the heart of a seemingly patriarchal culture, the enduring power resides in the role of the mother. This is a story of strong women, with strength displayed in many forms – intelligence, independence and sheer determination.
I learned a lot about Indian and particularly Brahmin culture through reading this novel and my perspective on the subject matter has broadened considerably. We can all learn something from this novel, no matter what our race or creed – that is the enduring power of family.
The Author: While this debut novel from Cheryl Snell is not auto-biographical, the author did draw on her personal experiences of marrying into the Hindu Brahmin culture. Prior to the publication of Shiva’s Arms, Snell has written five collections of poetry, Flower Half Blown, Eptihalamion, Samsara, Multiverse and Prisoner’s Dilemma (inspired by game theory).
This book was provided to me by publishers The Writer’s Lair Books for review as part of the Shiva’s Arms Blog Tour, for which Booklover Book Reviews will be the host on Sunday 25 July 2010.
Writer’s Lair Books are also kindly providing an additional copy of this book for me to giveaway to one lucky reader – ENTER HERE!