Author: Peggy Payne
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 1573221767
A poetic evocation of contemporary India as well as of the human spirit. With its insights into clashing cultures, it deserves comparison as a modern version of E M Forster's classic: 'A Passage to India'.
The lonely Planet guidebook recommends the Saraswati Guest House in Varanasi and meeting its proprietor Madame Natraja, ' a one-woman blend of East and West', as a worthwhile side trip for the adventurous traveler in India. Over the course of one weekend, several guests turn up at the Saraswati, shocked to encounter a nearly four-hundred-pound surly white woman in a sari. Jill Thornton, thirtyish and single, has come only to rest and see the sights before home from a business trip to New Delhi. T J Clayton, a swaggering southern bureaucrat, has arrived in India on a grant to study the pollution-plagued River Ganges. And Marie Jasper, nearly eighty years old, has ventured to Varanasi alone, after the death of her husband, to find peace by the holy river.
But as happens so often in India, Natraja's guests find more than what they came for. When a series of Hindu-Muslim murders rocks the peace of this sacr4ed place, the entire city is placed under curfew indefinitely - no one may leave his home. Natraja's guests unwittingly become her captives, and the guardians of her secrets. So begins a period of days blending into nights, as Natraja and her Indian cook become entangled in the web of religious violence. And their guests each fall slowly under the spell of Varanasi - both enthralled and repelled by its wandering holy men, public funeral pyres, and pilgrims bathing in the Ganges at dawn. They feel the rumble of their own inner revolutions as they are drawn further and further into the folds of their captive city.
And Natraja herself feels the isolated existence she has carefully guarded for twenty-odd years, since she came to Varanasi as a beautiful young woman, begin to break open. She starts to come alive again in the shadows of the exotic city's claustrophobic lanes, among the smells of the perfume market and the rhythms of the holy men, chanting on the river bank. She awakens to love, and to life.
EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS:
Sister India is a mesmerizing, hypnotic story of discovery and redemption that illuminates a part of the world that many Westerners may find only dimly familiar. Peggy Payne's rich tapestry o9f images and finely drawn characters will linger in your mind long after you have finished the book.-Gail Harris, Creator and host, PBS's Body & Soul series
Peggy Payne has created a powerful work of fiction, a suspenseful story of murder in a city along with the holy River Ganges, a city under curfew after an outbreak of religious violence. She makes you feel the claustrophobic turns of the streets; smell the oily-ashen scent of the air; hear the sound of Hindu chants at sunrise. The result is a compelling drama, vividly told, that will keep you turning the pages.-Lucy McCauley, editor, A Woman's Path: Women's Best Spiritual Travel Writing
From its four-hundred-pound narrator to its arresting imagery, Sister India is that rarity, an utterly original novel. It is both profound and mesmerizing.-Lee Smith, author of Saving Grace