Monday, August 09, 2010

Book Tour - Shiva's Arms by Cheryl Snell - Book Review

Is there a happy medium between Hindu tradition and American style, or does the battle of wills between a mother and daughter-in law for the love of the man caught in the middle trump all else? When Alice marries Ramesh, she is plunged into a battle of wills with her mother-in-law. Amma wreaks havoc 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. Shiva's Arms evolves into an exploration of cultural identity, the power of reconciliation, and the meaning of home. ***Bonus: Delicious recipes straight from the author's kitchen are included in the back of the book!**

What I Can Tell You: This is not one of those books you pick up and read it on the fly. You really have to dedicate time to sit and absorb it. As a mom of two young kids, I have to be able to read in little windows. I felt that this took away from the very deep story of a woman and the family she marries into. I really have to give credit to the author, this is a very, smart novel that showcases the differences in traditions and culture. There were many times I was just angry! Especially when Ram allows his mother to remove his and Alice's son as an infant from the home. As hard as Alice tries she is not accepted by Amma.

It is toward the end of the book where I got my greatest lesson. Regardless of the cross-cultural family, these woman share moments that are universal and pure. As different as we are, we are all the same in our hearts. We all want the same things, we all feel the same things. It's all relative to your belief system, life experiences, heritage and culture. 

While I loved reading about the Hindu Gods and the role they play in the lives of the people who worship them I kept asking myself, should tradition and heritage take a front seat to kindness and manners? I guess this is were I struggle the most as a live let live, woman. I cannot imagine staying married in a family were I felt that I had no voice. 

Very thought provoking book.

I was fortunate enough to ask Cheryl two questions regarding Shiva's Arms. Here is what she said:

Why did you give Alice mental health issues? Alice's mental illness is meant to hold a mirror to our global situation, where we find ourselves more obviously at the mercy of forces we can't control. I also needed her to be sick enough to recover, healing herself through helping Amma. The Christian ideal of reconciliation is an important theme in the book and the conclusion pivots on it. You might notice I gave Ram asthma. He has a hard time breathing, what with all that tugging of divided loyalties.

Is anything is the book true to your life?As for the parallels in my own life, I am married to a Hindu Brahmin, but that's where the resemblance ends. My characters are all imaginary, and their personalities are in the service of the story. I did stick in some  familiar objects (the Ganesh on a gold chain, etc) and things like thar, but it was for my own amusement, long before I considered submitting the book for publication.

My friend Freda, has a wonderfully smart review on her website, Freda's Voice. There you can also read her interview with the author Cheryl Snell.

Disclaimer: I received a copy from Writer's Lair Books in order to write my review.


  1. Thanks, Maria, for your generous words, and for hosting me today.

    Yes, the custom of "sharing" a child with the entire extended family does rankle western sensibilities. If Amma had been allowed to keep little Sam, he probably wouldn't have grown up to resent his parents for it. In our 'blame the mother' culture, that seems pretty amazing.

  2. Ahhh..the age-old tug of war between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Sounds like a very intriguing book that most can relate to! Great review, Maria.

  3. You constantly amaze, surprise and flatter me. Thank you for mentioning my review. I really connected to this book. It is a great read, like you said, if you can sit and get lost in it.
    So glad you read the book, and enjoyed it, and what a beautiful and honest review.

  4. P.s

    Being a mother is a thankless job, as my hubby says.



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