Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi
Ballantine Books, 2006
Fiction; 372 pgs
Rating: (Good +)
First Sentence: They took strips of coconut leaves and made dolls with them.
Reason for Reading: Amulya Malladi is one of my favorite authors and so there was no question that I would eventually read Song of the Cuckoo Bird. This is my 10th selection for the TBR Challenge.
From the Publisher: A sweeping epic set in southern India, where a group of outcasts create a family while holding tight to their dreams.
Barely a month after she is promised in marriage, eleven-year-old orphan Kokila comes to Tella Meda, an ashram by the Bay of Bengal. Once there, she makes a courageous yet foolish choice that alters the fabric of her life: Instead of becoming a wife and mother, youthful passion drives Kokila to remain at the ashram.
Through the years, Kokila revisits her decision as she struggles to make her mark in a country where untethered souls like hers merely slip through the cracks. But standing by her conviction, she makes a home in Tella Meda alongside other strong yet deeply flawed women. Sometimes they are her friends, sometimes they are her enemies, but always they are her family.
Like Isabel Allende, Amulya Malladi crafts complex characters in deeply atmospheric settings that transport readers through different eras, locales, and sensibilities. Careening from the 1940s to the present day, Song of the Cuckoo Bird chronicles India’s tumultuous history as generations of a makeshift family seek comfort and joy in unlikely places–and from unlikely hearts.
Comments: Song of the Cuckoo Bird is not just Kokila's story. It is the story of many of the residents and visitors of Tella Meda.
There is Ramanandam Sastri whose proclamation that his daughter Charvi is touched by the gods would dictate the rest of her life. People would flock to her for counsel and healing, her status as guru and goddess well known throughout the community. There is the loyal and faithful Subhadra, a surrogate mother to Kokila and her best friend, the outcast Chetana, the daughter of a prostitute. Then there is also the bitter, traditional widow who resents her life and strikes out at those who are different. Kokila herself is a bright woman, responsible and thoughtful. Her own life is not an easy one. The sacrifice of her marriage early one sets her up for a lonely life. And yet, she rarely complains, accepting her fate while at the same time seeking to make the best of what she does have and moving forward.
These are just a fraction of the cast of characters that walk through the pages of Amulya Malladi’s book. She paints them each with a careful brush, touching on their lives and offering the reader a look into their every day life and a glimpse into their thoughts and relationships. And yet the writing seemed a bit dry at times; the events in the novel unfold, time passes, and yet it is as if these events are being laid out for the reader in a matter of fact way rather than drawing the reader completely in. It was impossible not to come to care for the characters, however, and to feel invested in their individual stories, all of which were weaved so intricately together.
Life ebbs and flows in Tella Meda as Kokila and Chetana grow from girls into women, each coming into their own and facing the consequences of their own decisions. Song of the Cuckoo Bird is a novel that spans through 50 years of India’s history up until the modern day. As in real life, occasionally the events of the outside world influence life inside the ashram while other times they go by completely unnoticed. Amulya Malladi provides a timeline at the beginning of each chapter to set the stage for the chapter ahead, grounding the story in reality. She is effective in her use of historical facts and the cultural issues surrounding the country and the time period as well.
Because of the type of place Tella Meda is, readers are introduced to all sorts of societal outcasts, seeing more clearly the prejudices and injustices in general society. And yet it is also within this setting, that acceptance and the cultural richness are found.
Favorite Part: When television comes to the ashram. Charvi is reluctant to allow it into her home, but she finally relents at the insistence of so many of the other residents in the home. Of all the historical events that took place throughout the time line of the book, from war to assassinations of popular and powerful figureheads like the Ghandis, it was the television which seemed to bring the greatest change to life in the ashram. Suddenly meals and devotee visits were scheduled around must see television programs.
I also liked how the novel came full circle in the end. I always feel a sense of satisfaction when an author is able to accomplish that successfully.
For more information about the author and her books, visit the author's website. In my search for the website address, I also discovered Amulya Malladi has a blog you might want to check out.
Miscellaneous: Today was my unit Christmas lunch, and delicious food was had by all. It was nice to get away from the office for a couple of hours and just unwind. Our Secret Santa gift exchange went over well. Everyone left happy and full. I even received some unexpected gifts (including a Borders gift card)!
All of my holiday shopping is complete. Don't tell Riley, but I bought him a jingle bell collar for Christmas. I wonder who will feel tortured the most: him or my husband? One thing I find hard to do in the final stretch before the big day is not buying anything else. I am always tempted to get "one last item" even when I know it is completely unnecessary and probably unwise in consideration of my bank account. Does anyone else have this problem?