Faint Promise of Rain
Anjali Mitter Duva
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It is 1554 in the desert of Rajasthan. On a rare night of rain, a daughter is born to a family of Hindu temple dancers just as India’s new Mughal Emperor Akbar sets his sights on their home, the fortress city of Jaisalmer, and the other Princely States around it.
Fearing a bleak future, Adhira’s father, the temple’s dance master—against his wife and sons’ protests—puts his faith in tradition and in his last child for each to save the other: he insists that Adhira is destined to “marry” the temple’s deity and to give herself to a wealthy patron. Thus she must live in submission as a woman revered and reviled. But Adhira’s father may not have the last word. Adhira grows into an exquisite dancer, and after one terrible evening she must make a choice—one that will carry her family’s story and their dance to a startling new beginning.
The world of 16th century India was admittedly foreign to me before I read Duva's gorgeous novel. That mattered little, however, because she's a master of drawing the reader into the world of her characters, the dance, and the changing area near the citadel of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. I can still picture the places--the temple, the modest home in which Adhira grows up, the desert camps, the market and citadel.
The novel and everything that happens within it center around Adhira, a mystical child who was born into a family of Hindu temple dancers, called devadasi. Ahdira embodies the dance and what it represents, but is also subject to the hard lessons of being tied to a wealthy patron. The book transcends the story of the temple, wrapping the reader in a story of family and how, just as with families today, the relationships between family members are sometimes tenuous, complex and fraught with both love and drama.
It's rare when I read a book that makes me care so deeply about so many characters. Faint Promise of Rain does that for me in spades. I felt Girija's worry and pain, Gandar's blind devotion and the folly of his choices, Hari Dev's struggle and his kind heart, Padmini's sadness and Mahendra's desire and disillusionment. I felt anger when bad things happened to the family, and deep conflict when they acted in ways that only hurt themselves. I wanted them to be loved, to succeed, to be happy. And Ahdira! I felt her magic weaving through me with every word.
These are characters I will remember and think about for many years to come. Duva's debut novel speaks volumes about her talent. I can't wait to read her next book!
Transported me back...
I had an opportunity to read this book when it first came out in 2014, and could not put it down. The evocative descriptions of place and time, the buildup of the character's personalities, and the way the story ebbed and flowed was gripping and mesmerizing. I had no idea about the roots of kathak dance, and this book was not only informative in that regard, but wove the story of Adhira into a fictional but yet imaginable landscape of that time period in Rajasthan. I would highly recommend this book!
Wonderful Debut novel
What a wonderful first novel. I was able to transport myself to ancient India & imagine the scenes- the architecture, the dancing, the feel of the hot dry air. So many themes run through the novel & most apply to modern times: wanting the best for our children, wanting to please our families, wanting to change outdated rituals. I wished for more focus on Hari Dev as his character was so compelling. The narrator's voice changes from character to character & his voice felt almost like the main protagonist. Hari Dev shared the spotlight with his sister, Adhira.