by Swamy, Shruti Anna

"Vidya, a rebellious young dancer and motherless daughter, comes of age in 1960s and 70s Bombay"-

As in her lauded debut short story collection, A House Is a Body (2020), Swamy examines women's ownership of their very selves in her first novel, which is set in a disappeared Bombay. Swamy divides Vidya's young life into five distinct sections, focusing on pivotal developmental moments defined by her bonds (or lack thereof) with other women. She's initially nameless to herself while others are referred to as Aunt-Not-Mother and Father Sir as she's raised by an extended family while her mother is institutionalized. By part II, motherless Vidya has become caretaker to her father and younger brother, while an all-encompassing passion for kathak (an exacting form of classical Indian dance) allows her to reclaim her sense of "I." Part III places Vidya in college where her most significant relationship, beyond her kathak guru, is with a brilliant older girl. Then "I" becomes "we," with Vidya seemingly content in a nontraditional marriage until suddenly she's pregnant. Part V comes full circle as Vidya unexpectedly returns to her childhood home. Each segment challenges expectations and exposes the limitations of being female. Beyond adaptation, sacrifice, and even erasure, Swamy provides no easy answers to the search for fulfillment. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

An ancient dance form becomes a paradoxical route to escape for a girl growing up in poverty in India. Swamy's debut novel focuses on the life of Vidya, a girl growing up in Bombay in the 1960s. During her early childhood, her unhappy mother disappears twice, the second time for good. That leaves Vidya to raise her younger brother, Rishi, while their father works long hours. The girl is studious but shy and reserved, damaged by her mother's absence. Vidya's chief joy is her study of kathak, a rigorously traditional Indian dance form. Advancing in her skills, she becomes the student of an acclaimed dancer who is a demanding teacher. In college, studying for an engineering degree, Vidya encounters prejudice because of her low social class and dark skin as well as her gender. She also falls in love with Radha, another young woman, although neither of them can express their desires in word or action. Asked to perform a dance as part of an amateur theatrical, Vidya agrees. She hopes her dance will pierce Radha's heart, and it does, but it's fateful in unintended ways. The third portion of the book finds Vidya in an unlikely marriage to Rustom, the spoiled son of a wealthy family. Their union, and their choice to live in a seaside cottage apart from their families to pursue their artistic dreams-he's a poet-upends just about every expectation of Indian society. But another fateful event will bring Vidya full circle, confronting the life she tried to leave behind. Swamy's prose is incantatory and often lovely, swirling in dancelike rhythms that sweep the story along. She builds a complex character in Vidya, whose urge toward autonomy brings results that range from ecstatic to tragic. A young woman seeks freedom through art in a mesmerizing coming-of-age story. Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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