It is 1554. On a rare night of rain in the desert of Rajasthan, India, a daughter, Adhira, is born to a family of Hindu temple dancers just as a new Mughal emperor takes the throne.
Fearing a bleak future, her father puts his faith in tradition and in his last child for each to save the other: He insists Adhira "marry" the temple deity and give herself to a wealthy patron. But after one terrible evening, she makes a bold choice that carries her family's story and their dance to a startling new beginning.
Told from the perspective of this exquisite dancer and filled with the sounds, sights, and flavors of the Indian desert, Faint Promise of Rain is the story of a family and a girl caught between art, duty, and fear in a changing world.
Shortlisted for the 2016 William Saroyan Prize for International Writing
©2014 Anjali Mitter Duva (P)2016 Anjali Mitter Duva
I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging novel which takes place in 16th century Rajasthan, a culture in a time period with which I have no familiarity so the author’s ability to comfortably set me in the middle of a desert village in the mid 1554 was commendable. The audio version, expertly narrated by Meetu Chilana, added to my enjoyment of the story. Hearing a native speaker 1) pronounce the foreign names and places and 2) create a non-english Indian language rhythm with an english narration was very engaging.
Through the story we follow the life of Adhira as her very birth, taking place during a rain in the middle of a drought, becomes a sign of blessing. Through her eyes as the beloved youngest child, we experience her world beginning near the fortress city of Jaisalmer during the time of the Moghal Emperor Akbar whose armies are sweeping through India. Here again we have the clash of religion and cultures; Islam vs. Hindu without the gory details.
Much of young Adhira’s family life centers on the Hindu temple as we learn about the duties, life and expectations of devadasis, temple dancers. It becomes apparent that, even as a very young child, she has a natural gift of rhythm and dance. As the temple dance master, her father’s regular presence at the temple allows Adhira to learn the storied dances of Krishna at an early age. She feels called to temple life, not knowing the “dark” side of the devadasi duties and too young to understand the sacrifices the life requires and the conflicting family opinions of temple life during wartime bring conflict and unrest.
As a life-long dancer, learning about this dance form was fascinating for me and has prompted additional research and study. As a reader, I was carried along with the tales and could hear the clinking of the bells and musical descriptions that could have, in the hands of a less skilled author, become too involved for westerners like me, who are unfamiliar with these stories. However, the author adeptly relayed the nature of the dance and storyline without making it tedious.
This is an excellent example of why I enjoy historical fiction. Learning about a foreign culture and time period, not through lectures, but through well-researched story telling that makes the reader emotionally involved in the lives of the characters is intensely rewarding. Duva does an expert job of drawing the reader/listener into the world of the devadasis, the Hindu temple dancers. Everything from their colorful costumes, jewelry and dance rhythms to their required commitment to “patrons” for financial support comes to light.
I found the story engaging, the characters well developed and the setting, which was so foreign to what I know, well played. I cared about what happened to these characters and enjoyed the interactions between them. Even now, several weeks after finishing the book, as I read the names of the various characters, I smile with remembrance, as if they are old friends. This was a truly engaging reading experience, highly recommended for anyone interested in historical or literary fiction.
I look forward to her next work.
I thought this was a really interesting book. It took place in a place and time that I don't know much about. I love things related to dance, so the fact that this book was about a family of Hindu temple dancers really appealed to me. It was interesting to see the role of women, as well as the role of people in service to the temple. I enjoyed reading the stories about the different gods of Hinduism, which I was not familiar with at all. I listened to the Audible audio version of this book narrated by Meetu Chilana. I really enjoyed her narration, as she has a very pleasant and clear voice. I'm glad I had a chance to hear this one.
Anjali Mitter Duva’s Faint Promise of Rain evokes the entrancing world of a 16th century Rajasthani family's deep commitment to ritual Hindu dance, customs, and spirituality in a changing world of political upheaval. Love, passion, duty, sacrifice and suffering all find thematic places in the interwoven lives of the omniscient narrator’s family members. The lightest touch of magical realism makes this faraway place and time even more enchanting. From blinding desert heat and brilliant color to the cool interior secrets of each character’s inner world, Mitter Duva beautifully renders images of dance and music. A truly fine debut novel. Extra special treat- wonderful narration of the audiobook by Meetu Chilana.
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