cover image Shiva's Fire

Shiva's Fire

Suzanne Fisher Staples. Farrar Straus Giroux, $18 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-374-36824-1

If not for references to modern technology, this tale set in India might defy chronology; the folkloric narrative, primal settings and universal themes confer a timeless quality. Parvati, the heroine, has a mystical aura; some villagers think she carries doom because her birth coincided with an unprecedented cyclone that devastated the entire region. Parvati does not know if she is to blame for the destruction caused by the storm or the famine that followed, but she retains a memory of everything she has witnessed since infancy. As she grows up, animals flock to her, seemingly communing with her, and when music is played, Parvati cannot keep her feet still, no matter how hard she tries. Eventually, Parvati's talent for dance and spiritual gifts win her a scholarship to a gurukulam (a school run by a great teacher). But devoting herself to her studies requires sacrifices Parvati has not even dreamt of. The Hindu concept of dharma is as intricately woven into this saga as decorative threads are woven into Parvati's elaborate dance costumes. Staples's (Shabanu; Haveli) deceptively plain prose conjures a variety of moods, textures and images. Poetically and suspensefully expressing the sorrows and joys of the spiritual life as well as the life of the artist, this is a spellbinder. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)