Growing up in the Fiji Islands in the late 1960s, Kalyana Mani Seth is an impressionable, plump young girl suited to the meaning of her name: blissful, blessed, the auspicious one. Her mother educates Kalyana about her Indian heritage, vividly telling tales of mischievous Krishna and powerful Mother Kali, and recounting her grandparents’ migration to the tiny, British colony.
While the island nation celebrates its recently granted independence, new stories of the feminist revolution in America are carried over the waves of the Pacific to Kalyana’s ears: stories of women who live with men who are not their husbands, who burn their bras, who are free to do as they please. Strange as all this sounds, Kalyana hopes that she will be blessed with a husband who allows her a similar sense of liberty.
But nothing prepares her for the trauma of womanhood and the cultural ramifications of silence and shame, as her mother tells her there are some family stories that should never be told.
Khelawan's second novel (following The End of the Dark and Stormy Night) tells the story of a young Indian woman growing up in the late 1960s in Fiji, where her family relocated during the British occupation of India. She was lovingly raised by her mother, who vividly recounts tales of her family and India's mythological stories; her aunt, with whom she shares a bed and her education; and her father, known in the neighborhood as a liberal man because he does not beat his wife without reason. Kalyana's world is shattered at age 11 when her uncle rapes her. When Kalyana's mother tells her she must hide what has happened for the sake of their family, the young woman struggles to reconcile the narratives that connect women to each other while enduring the silencing that her society requires. As the story follows Kalyana into adulthood including marriage, immigration to Canada, and having a child of her own readers see how political movements shape her life. Khelawan elegantly intertwines the effects of patriarchy, colonialism, slavery, and second-wave feminism in a story about a young woman losing and then finding her voice. Rich in detail and memory, the novel celebrates the power of storytelling as both formative and healing.