Karma, by Cathy Ostlere

Today and tomorrow I'm taking part in the Spring into Summer readathon, over at Squeaky Books. Today is my first day of summer vacation, but sadly, unlike the happy summers of childhood, there's more than just reading and eating cookies--I have to go into work for a few hours this afternoon.

But still. One reads as much as one can. This morning I began the read-a-thon with Karma, by Cathy Osteler, and have just finished, and my heart is heavy and my eyes a bit teary.

Do not be deceived by the pink cover with the romantic profiles of the boy and girl. This is a dark and heavy book, but mercifully, even in the darkness there is beauty and hope.

Karma is the story of Maya, child of a Hindu mother and a Sikh father, who immigrated to Canada after their forbidden marriage. When her mother commits suicide, she and her father take the urn of ashes back to India, and arrive just in time for the October, 1984, assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the retaliatory killings of thousands of Sikhs. She is separated by her father, and thrown into a nightmare of chaos and death.

But Maya is fated to live. She is taken in by a family in the desert town to which she had randomly fled, and Sandeep, the 17 year old adopted son of that family (a boy who has still not been able to face, or even fully remember, the past horror of his own life), becomes her friend....

Told in the form of diary entries (first by Maya, then by Sandeep, and finally by Maya again), in a free verse form, this is a stunningly, achingly powerful story. It is not for the faint of heart. The brief, lyrical description of the castration of little boys during the bloodbath in New Delhi, for instance, is horrible (and will stick in my mind forever), and it is but one of many horrors.

But the light that Ostlere's beautiful and moving writing brings to this story makes the book worth reading. Hard questions are asked, and sad stories are told, and it is good and important that these things be done, and the stories not be forgotten, and that people think, and care, and try to do better. Ostlere has no easy answers, but the reader is left hopeful that healing is possible.

Side note--in general, I don't care for stories written in free verse format--my eyes skittle too fast over the pages. Here, possibly because the "free verse" was in the form of diary entries, I found it easy to loose myself in the story.

I won this book in a give-away from Niki at Wicked Awesome Books -- here's her review. (Thanks Niki!)


  1. This sounds brutal. I'm torn about whether or not to read it. I wrote a paper on the fallout of Indira Gandhi's assassination when I took a history of modern India class in college. It's not pretty stuff.

    On another note, as I was reading the beginning of this review and got to the part about the romantic profiles I was confused. What romantic profiles? It took me like five minutes to find them. I'm really bad at seeing stuff like that.

  2. It is brutal--there are a few things seared into my head now that I don't exactly want to have there, that kept popping up all day today when I was doing other things...

    But on the other page, as it were,it is very engrossing, moving, fascinating, riveting, etc.

    (it's probably easier to see the profiles in real life! Although that being said, I'm rather pleased with myself for noticing them!)

  3. Charlotte - Despite the brutality within Karma's pages, I'm pleased to hear that the story resonated with you and left you thinking. I haven't read very many free verse books myself, but I had no trouble with Karma's format. In fact, I think if it was told in traditional prose, the story would not have been as affecting.

  4. I agree, Nikki--I think the free verse format kept a certain clarity, maybe, to the story.


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