cover image Shiva Dancing

Shiva Dancing

Bharti Kirchner / Author Dutton Books $23.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0

At once a cautionary tale of culture-clash, a tender love story and a finely crafted tearjerker, Kirchner's sentimental but appealing debut tells the story of an adopted woman who leaves San Francisco to seek her roots in northern India. (Readers may detect similarities to Bharati Mukherjee's recent novel Leave It to Me.) Software designer Meena Gossett seems the average yuppie; she jogs, meditates, hangs out with an upscale circle of friends. But she was born Meena Kumari in a Rajasthani desert village, kidnapped by bandits at age seven, on the day of her arranged marriage to playmate Vishnu Chauhan, and then rescued by a loving if reserved American couple in Delhi who took her back to California. Now 35, her adoptive parents both dead, sophisticated, workaholic Meena yearns to retrieve her Indian self, to track down her village, her family, her child-groom. Anchoring her to San Francisco, however, is her romantic interest in self-absorbed, affianced Anglo-American novelist Antoine Peterson. Once an exchange student in India, Antoine helps Meena find Vishnu, now a muckraking journalist in Calcutta--and unwittingly sets Meena up for a dangerous introduction to Indian tribal politics. Indian-born cookbook author Kirchner (The Bold Vegetarian ) deftly examines the sometimes hazardous lures of family and birthplace, showing how Meena's nostalgia is rooted in illusion. If Antoine is at times insufferable and the ending rather pat, Kirchner nonetheless proves a sensitive observer of India and the dilemmas of a bicultural heritage. (Mar.)