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Shiva's Arms

A literary novel by Cheryl Snell

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A wonderful cross-cultural window and a really enjoyable read

  • Jul 20, 2010
If you've ever wondered about Indian culture, Hindu festivals, mixed marriages that span continents, or how people from a different background assimilate in America's new world, Shiva's Arms is surely the book for you.

A literary story, Shiva's Arms tell the tale of Ram, who marries the American Alice, of Ram's mother, known as Amma, of his sister Nela, and of son Sam who grows from childhood to adulthood with a foot in each world. The story's narrated through the eyes of each of the main characters, flickering sometimes between points of view, so the reader's left vaguely unsettled, unsure, just as the narrators are.

There are beautiful scenes, of a wedding in India and Alice's cultural mis-steps as she tries to fit in; of a festival of dolls with Barbies adding their color to tradition; of "painting" with chalk, sacred symbols that strangers scuff with shoes. And there are sad scenes too; Alice's struggle against depression; her mother-in-law's seeming cruelty; Nela's wounded dance round relationships.

The characters in this novel are all very real. They see their own mistakes and navigate troubled waters of their own making. They analyze their motives and forget to notice love. But there's healing for Indian and American errors, and samsara sagara (the drowning sea of domesticity) proves to offer shelter on beautiful shores.

Moving rapidly, from a time before Sam's birth through to his high school graduation, the story spans continents and cultures, pleasures and pains. Ram drifts on the edge of understanding, ever-loving, ever-loyal. And Sam drifts on the edge of rebellion. A sudden coincidence brings all the relationships into turmoil and sharp focus, and a breathtaking dogged devotion leads to breathtaking delight.

There are Indian words and phrases, and foods, scattered through the tale, but I never felt the need to refer to the glossary till the end. Then I delighted in reading their full meanings. There are Indian recipes too though I'd struggle to find patience to make them. But most of all, there's an Indian and American feel to the tale, a telling of something real from which all of us can learn, a blending of cultures that leaves them both unique and that heals the rift.

The author, a published poet, clearly knows what she's writing about, and I loved learning from her and sharing her love of cultures and of words.

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About the reviewer
Sheila Deeth ()
Ranked #42
Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
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About this book


When Alice marries Ramesh, she is plunged into a battle of wills with her mother-in-law. Namesake of a god, Amma reigns over Alice's household until a family secret is revealed that costs the old woman everything. Now it is up to Alice to heal the rift, as Shiva’s Arms evolves into an exploration of cultural identity, the power of reconciliation, and the meaning of home.
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ISBN-10: 0615340814
ISBN-13: 978-0615340814
Author: Cheryl Snell
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: The Writer's Lair Books
Date Published: March 2010
Format: hardback
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