And what better example to demonstrate this than with a book review about Cheryl Snell’s compelling novel Shiva’s Arms — a portrayal of women — mothers, daughters, and wives — commanding a space of articulation and reconciliation that transcends cultural differences and loyalties. This story is told in such a way that at times it feels like reading poetry, assuming the gentle and swaying cadences portrayed by the stories, language, music, and traditional rites of the South Indian culture, which Cheryl Snell brings to light and fosters with love and appreciation.
Synopsis: The conflict that drives this story exists between two women from different parts of the world, brought together by the love they share for one man. Ramesh, having left a country and family saturated with Indian culture and tradition in pursuit of an American education, embraces the United States and falls in love with Alice, a beautiful art student. When he brings his blond-haired blue-eyed lover to India for their wedding, he defies Indian customs of arranged marriages, parental consent, approval of deities, planets, and of course, his very spiritually strict and rigid mother, Amma Shiva. While Alice assimilates to the foreign and exotic customs of her husband and his family, adopting them as her own, her attempts in acquiring the approval and love of her mother-in-law are futile. The constant battles of wills between these two women, both strong, stubborn, and fiercely loving, wreak havoc and strain upon Alice’s life and home, her emotional stability, the mothering of her son, and even her marriage to Ramesh. It is only when one of them suffers an illness that both women are forced to humility, to mutual acceptance, and finally to reconciliation and perhaps even love.
Review: What Cheryl Snell does with Shiva’s Arms is quite captivating and inspirational. This is more than a book about the forced marriage of two estranged cultures, each one forced to coexist with the other despite their differences in customs and belief systems. It is about love and acceptance; it is about the need to belong and feel part of something that is bigger than you. It is the hunger that drives us to be seen and understood by those that share our paths in life. This is the narrative thread that embroiders itself around the story line of this book. Amma Shiva is a small and forceful Indian woman who holds on to her family and traditions with severity, with pride, and loyalty. Alice is a softer version of her — but just as fierce to defend her home, her love for Ramesh and their son, Sam. There is an intensely emotional mother-daughter narrative at play in Shiva‘s Arms, in which mother and daughter need to see one another not just as “mother” and “daughter,” but as women — two separate and independent entities sharing the same goal — the fulfillment of one’s son and the happiness of the other’s husband. There is absolute calm and redemption when each one succeeds in the mutual acceptance they both secretly seek. Because of the impassioned loyalty that resides within, each woman is able to push through the muck and mire of difference and possessiveness that governs their relationship to discover a braver, more forgiving and accepting version of herself. It is definitely highly recommended for your list of 2011 reading — the kind that lulls you towards self-enlightenment and acceptance. And if you have an affinity for Indian dishes, the back pages of the book are filled with delicacies discussed within the story line. Good reading, everyone!
How About You? Have you had any experiences like Alice and Amma’s with a particular woman in your life — a mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law? How did you resolve it?
Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.