Reviewed in the United States on August 1, 2018
EDITED at suggestion of a comments by James Crain and Kindle Reader Kit, below.
Last month the Amazon First books, and the short stories, all seemed to resonate with me. This month, only two stories provided any glimmer of interest for me. Then, a review of one of the two dissuaded me from reading that one. So, I took a chance on "The Storyteller’s Secret,” even though it sounded a bit too common. Would I be inspired? Would I be letdown? Is this story merely a good read, or is it something more?
Read on to learn what I found…
POV: Starts out in first person, but then shifts to third person.
THE WRITING: Frankly, the first three or four chapters were, well, sensitively written, but not particularly interesting for me. Essentially, they were written to show why our heroine travels to India. Parts were gripping, but other parts felt as if the author was trickling information instead of painting a picture. Yeah, it was a bit like my writing, so I shan’t be too critical. By Chapter 6, when we travel back in time to the 1930’s, the POV changes to third person and becomes much more engaging.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I did feel relieved to begin reading of Grandfather Deepak and Amisha. Suffice it to say that I lived in Egypt for a number of years and fell in love with an Egyptian lady and we married in 2002. To this day, I still tend to not fully fathom the society my wife was raised in. Even so, I am able to get a glimpse of the different views of Indian society and its strict adherence to their customs. If readers keep this in mind while reading “The Storyteller’s Secret,” it may help them navigate the nuances hinted at.
It is important to note that journalists, (of small newspapers and large) are always reminded to keep their opinions out of the stories they write, because it is important for readers to see what is happening so they can arrive at their own conclusions. I found this easy, usually, as did the protagonist in this tale of woe, which became an epiphany for her upon learning the sordid details of her grandmother. Saying such is not a spoiler, as without some sort of story arc, there would be no reason to relay such a tale of fiction that almost could be true.
BLUSH FACTOR: As for language and sex, no worries here.
ADVENTURE: To explore the fictional tale of a family history in a foreign land (India) is an adventure of sorts, but this is not an adventure on the scale of, say, Emerald Forest. This adventure is more of one from one society to another. Rather than refer to this tale as a story of adventure, it is more a quest for discovery.
SOUL: Yes, this has soul. When you can read the plight of someone raised in a society with vastly different customs, and the strict adherence by most to those customs, and still feel empathy for them, that is a story with soul. To some extent, I suppose, my view of Indians of Asian descent was enhanced because of this story. Not to an earthshaking extent, but I am moved.
In this excerpt you will likely deduce that Amisha is a strong-willed Indian woman heavily influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Ghandhi, which some revered as revolutionary seeking more than mere independence from Britain, but independence from the shackles of custom. Amisha would pay the price for her convictions, but that is getting ahead of the story…
‘…Amisha remembered Chara’s order to find a servant she could trust. Because Ravi did not live in her village, he would not be part of the crowd whose loyalty would be to Chara first. She gnawed on her lip as her palms started to sweat and her heart fluttered. Even as the plan hatched, she feared she was inviting Chara’s wrath.
“You would work anywhere?”
“Who are you?” Frustration laced his words.
He kept glancing around them. Amisha knew he was afraid of being beaten. She had seen it before when an untouchable spoke to a woman of a higher caste.
“I am the daughter-in-law of the mill’s owner,” Amisha replied quickly. She said it without pride since her position in society mattered little to her. At the widening of his eyes, she added, “Work for me.” If she waited any longer, she feared talking herself out of it.
“It is cruel for you to joke.” Ravi turned away, barely masking his disgust.
“I am not laughing, and neither should you be.” The man’s desire to be more than what was allowed struck a chord deep within her, and Amisha couldn’t imagine a better comrade for herself. “Take the offer or don’t. Just decide quickly so I know to look elsewhere.”
“I am an untouchable.” Ravi hit the dirt with his bare foot and glanced away in shame. “It is important for you to know.”
“I am a woman.” Her reality always a looming shadow, she glanced at the sun. “We have now established our roles.”
“You are the mill owner’s daughter,” Ravi argued. “My parents and siblings are also vagrants. Begging is our destiny.” Furious, he paused before muttering, “No matter how hard I try to change it.”
“Daughter-in-law,” Amisha corrected. “Both of our circumstances dictate how we live.” When his gaze met hers, she refused to look away. “My mother-in-law treats me no better than a servant.”
“Is it acceptable for me to be a servant in your home?” Ravi seemed to accept that he couldn’t win the war of semantics with her.
Unwilling to admit the truth, Amisha deflected. “I should tell you the story of a handsome singer.”
“I would prefer you didn’t,” Ravi returned. She ignored him. “This singer wanted…’
Badani, Sejal. The Storyteller's Secret: A Novel (pp. 60-61). Lake Union Publishing. Kindle Edition.
A story of this richness and contrast might make for an interesting 90 minutes entertainment on TV. If the producers and directors can show the story without straying too far from the writer’s depiction, it might be a big hit on HBO or Showtime. I doubt that it would fare well on Hallmark Channel. At any rate, although the writing is not one of those 'life-changing' books, it is a good read by a talented writer of Indian descent. I definitely will be reading more of her books.
Four stars out of five.
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