Shruti Swamy. Algonquin, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61620-990-2
Swamy’s affecting debut novel (after A House is a Body) follows a woman’s interest in dance and self-determination after growing up in poverty in 1960s Northern India. At seven, Vidya encounters a class of girls learning kathak, a form of Indian classical dance. By the time she’s in her teens, Vidya has become a dedicated kathak pupil, devoted to the “wild, nearly unbearable pleasure” of dance. In college, she studies engineering while continuing to work every day with a new dance teacher from Bombay. Always set slightly apart from her peers by her poverty and intensity, Vidya is surprised by the depth of her connection to another student, the solitary and brilliant Radha. Swamy writes with keen perception of Vidya’s anger and unyielding will to dance, despite her predicament (she never forgets that she is “dark, overeducated, unpedigreed”). Later in the book, after Vidya’s brief romance with Radha, she marries a man from a very different socioeconomic class, a decision that further illustrates how the odds are stacked against her as a young woman attempting to live on her own terms. Swamy confidently evokes the time and place with spare, precise prose. This writer continues to demonstrate an impressive command of her craft. (Sept.)
This review has been updated to clarify a plot point.
Reviewed on: 07/08/2021
Release date: 09/01/2021
Hardcover - 304 pages - 9781616209902