What Others Are Saying About Divine Music
Suruchi Mohan. Bayeux, 242p, ISBN 9781897411063
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Mohan’s impressive debut explores the connections between spiritual and physical passion in a shifting Indian society, through the lives of two musically gifted young Indian women. Sarika and Swati follow their artistic muses to the local conservatory, where each succumbs to the passions of older men attracted by their talent. Swati, from a poor village, is ruined when her wealthy businessman admirer impregnates and then abandons her. Sarika, the daughter of a well-placed government official, receives private after-class instruction from Kirana, a renowned voice teacher, but falls prey to his seductive lessons on the sensuality of music, and ends up in the same predicament as classmate Swati. The contrasting fates of these similarly afflicted young women leads to a rich multi-generational portrait of a changing cultural and political landscape riddled with new opportunity as well as age-old opportunism. (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly (Web Exclusive November 16, 2009)
In her richly textured debut novel, Suruchi Mohan opens our eyes to the intricate world of North Indian classical music. We are swept along by the story of Sarika, whose beautiful voice isn’t enough to protect her from being an Indian woman in an unforgiving world. Steeped in the culture and traditions of India, Divine Music is a captivating read.
Gail Tsukiyama, bestselling author of The Street of a Thousand Blossoms and Dreaming Water
This debut novel by a former journalist homes in on the repressive side of 1970s Indian culture. Sarika is a gifted music student attending a renowned music college in Lucknow in North India. …this accessible, engrossing first novel offers an unusual blend of social commentary, coming-of-age themes, and a love for sacred Indian music. Booklist, September 2009
“I really enjoyed reading Divine Music,” says Sally Thomas, Adult Services Librarian at Hayward. “The novel is rich in detail about contemporary India and its cultural traditions, and the characters really come alive on the page,” she says. “I knew that Hayward Public Library’s diverse community would be interested in her novel and would appreciate an opportunity to meet her.”
Class, religion, and music mix in Suruchi Mohan’s new novel.
East Bay Express, Anneli Rufus
It is rarely that one comes across a full fiction based on music. In Indian Bhasha literature, one immediately remembers S.L. Bhyrappa’s Saraswati Samman winning Kannada novel Mandra and Bani Basu’s Bengali novel Gandharvi. So far as English fiction by an Indian writer is concerned we have Amit Chaudhuri’s Afternoon Raga and Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, where Seth brilliantly conveys the intense and complex interplay of chamber musicians-an odd, obsessed, introspective, separatist breed-both in rehearsal and in per-formance. Suruchi Mohan’s debut novel Divine Music is the latest addition to this short list. The novel is a complex, sophisticated, elegant investigation of trauma and desire-like a white hot flame. It traces a gifted young girl Sarika’s passionate struggle to realize her talents as a singer, in a North Indian bourgeois society where the mother sits through the session when a male teacher gives private tui-tion to a girl student. It is also the coming-of-age tale of Sarika in the sense that she falls for the charm of her revered guru Kirana Saheb who not only recognizes her great potential but nurtures it towards blossoming and recogni-tion. Sarika’s journey takes her further, but the price of recognition, when it finally comes, is steep. Presumably based on some fragments of a real life story, the achingly beautiful prose depicts the search for an artistic voice. As far as I know, this is the first all out portrait of an artist as a young woman. The story begins on the day of the demise of Sarika’s beloved grandmother when she is just sixteen. Three days later when the prayer meeting is taking place, Kirana Saheb comes to her room upstairs and kisses her for the first time declaring his love for her. From then on-ward the story unfolds through Sarika’s vision in flashback-a story of longing and intrigue, half-told truths and toxic lies-till the climax of her physical union with the guru and subsequent discovery of her pregnancy. Parallel runs the story of Swati, a poor but talented girl from the North East in whose story the author explores the way the experience of artistic transcendence can destroy a life. Swati’s suicide is an act de-monstrating her failure to find her own unique and autonomous being. Both Sarika and Swati fall for the easier path of carnality.
The Book Review, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee