Book Review: Karma by Cathy Ostlere

It's October 1984, and half-Hindu, half-Sikh Maya is on a plane from Canada to India with her father. Maya has with her the two most important things in her world - her journal and her mother's ashes. She and her father are bringing their mother home to India to lay her to rest near her family.

But on the night Maya and her father arrive in New Delhi, Hindu prime minster Indiru Gandhi is assassinated in her garden by her Sikh bodyguards, and the country erupts in a maelstrom of violence. Fueled by generations of pent-up resentment, the murder of the prime minister sparks three days of race riots, and Maya and her father are unable to escape the violence. In an attempt to hide his religion, Maya's Sikh father cuts his hair, discards his turban, and sets out into the city to find a friend who will protect them, leaving Maya behind in their hotel room. But when rioting Hindus set the hotel on fire, Maya is forced out into the night, alone in a foreign country - leaving her mother's ashes behind.

Disguised as a boy to protect herself (she will be too conspicuous as a young woman travelling alone without a husband or male family member), Maya is too afraid to go back to the hotel. Instead, she makes her way to the train station, sure her father will meet her there so they can take the train together to Chandigarh, where her mother was born. But her father never comes.

Sandeep is an orphan - adopted by a Hindu family when he was found in the desert, the only survivor from a tribe of nomads after a sandstorm. When he first sees Maya, sent to live with his family by his adoptive sister, Parvati, a doctor, he is instantly captivated. Too beautiful to be a boy (despite her short hair) and unable to speak, Sandeep wants to protect this fragile mystery girl - and be the one to discover the secrets behind her silence.

I absolutely loved this beautiful novel in verse. Intricately constructed and told in the alternating voices of Maya and Sandeep, you'll savor every beautiful word of this book. Maya's childhood in Canada, her parents' Romeo and Juliet romance, and her relationship with her parents, India, and her dual religions all play a part in her struggle to accept her mother's death, understand her father's abandonment, survive the religious violence around her, and to accept Sandeep's genuine and instant love for her. The story of how Maya and Sandeep unravel the secrets of their separate pasts to build a future together in the middle of an ancient country's religious and political turmoil is one you won't want to miss @ the library!

(now devouring Die for Me by Amy Plum - delicious!)