Friday, February 19, 2016

Lord of the Dance

If you’ve ever read my bio, either here or on my website or at the back of one of my novels, you’ll know that I love to dance. I took classical ballet classes for more than 25 years, and I still practice on my own at least five times a week (my skills are no better than fair, but it’s a form of exercise I enjoy, so who cares?). So when I learned that Anjali Mitter Duva’s debut novel was not just about a dancer but about the evolution of Indian classical dance in response to the Mughal invasion from Central Asia, I knew I had to interview her. You can hear the results for free on the New Books Network site.

I was not disappointed. Duva talks at length about kathak dance, its history and practice, and the spiritual and physical experience of engaging in it. She also talks about her wonderful characters, struggling to find their place in a world changing before their eyes while living in a desert climate so harsh that children can reach adolescence without ever seeing rain. This is a book about family and culture, so richly described that you will smell the spices and hear the beat of heels drumming against the floors. It is also a book about contradictions: the brides of Lord Krishna, who dance to worship him, are sold off to the highest bidder among the local elite, who then becomes their patron and uses them as he pleases. Yet despite the odds against her, Duva’s heroine, Adhira, manages to find a way out.

The rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction, which now has a brand-new URL as the result of an upgrade to the network’s Web presence. For a while, the old addresses will redirect, but you can find a complete list of interviews at this link.

In 1526, Babur the Tiger, the self-proclaimed ruler of Afghanistan, moved south and conquered the northwest section of what was then known as Hindustan. Babur, although accepted as padishah and emperor, never much cared for India, but his descendants flourished there until the British moved in more than three centuries later.

Faint Promise of Rain explores the early part of this transition. Two years before the death of Babur’s son Humayun, a girl child is born to the temple dance master near Jaisalmer, a citadel in present-day Rajasthan. Adhira’s birth is considered auspicious, because it takes place during one of this desert area’s rare rainstorms. To Adhira’s father, the divine blessing placed on his child means that she will finally be the one to carry on the kathak dance tradition that has defined his life. Adhira’s mother worries that no little girl should carry the burden of such great expectations. And Adhira’s older brother Mahendra cannot sustain his own service to the temple in the face of the increasing strength and influence wielded by the armies of Emperor Akbar, Babur’s grandson. Mahendra, although a dancer by instinct and by training, becomes convinced that his duty to protect his family requires him to fight.

Against this backdrop of religious, cultural, and military conflict, Anjali Mitter Duva paints a richly colored, exquisitely detailed picture of a world in flux. At the heart of the painting stands Adhira, who through her love for Krishna and the dance slowly finds a pathway to a future that is all her own.

Finally, a quick update on The Swan Princess, which has gone to typesetting and should be released on or about April 15. You can find out more about that at my website.

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