Title: Faint Promise of Rain
Author: Anjali Mitter Duva
Genre: Adult historical fiction
Format: Kindle e-book
Published: By She Writes Press on October 7th, 2014
ISBN13: 9781938314971 (Paperback edition)
It is 1554 in the desert of Rajasthan. On a rare night of rain, a daughter is born to a family of Hindu temple dancers just as India’s new Mughal Emperor Akbar sets his sights on their home, the fortress city of Jaisalmer, and the other Princely States around it.
Fearing a bleak future, Adhira’s father, the temple’s dance master—against his wife and sons’ protests—puts his faith in tradition and in his last child for each to save the other: he insists that Adhira is destined to “marry” the temple’s deity and to give herself to a wealthy patron. But Adhira grows into an exquisite dancer, and after one terrible evening she must make a choice—one that may carry her family’s story and their dance to a startling new beginning.
I picked this book up because Sara mentioned it in the comments of one of my blog posts. I’d oddly enough never read any historical fiction set in India, so I decided to give this a whirl on a whim as it would fulfil a bingo square on the Asian Lit Bingo. I had no expectations going into it but a feeling that I’d like it as it was recommended by a good friend.
The characters are the major focus in this book and drive the story forward. We see the life of Adhira unfold through the eyes of her family members and those close to her even though she is the narrator, which is markedly different from other books and I enjoyed this narrative style. Each of the characters was very well developed and complex, with layers that were revealed over the course of the story. Their voices reflected the different mindsets that prevailed during that period in history. I also liked the representation of Hari, who is disabled and shows symptoms of OCD.
The main part of the story that I was completely taken with was the portrayal of dance. As a dancer myself who had to quit because of work, it brought back beautiful memories and reignited the passion I had for it. I could easily picture the scenes from the descriptions because I was so familiar with the gestures, the movements, the beats and the story even though the dance form I learnt is different from the one shown in this story. I was impressed with all the mythological stories woven in with the dance aspect. I also felt that the author did a wonderful job with the setting and the writing style added a whole new dimension to the story. This greatly enhanced my reading experience and is the primary reason that I gave this book such a high rating.
However, if I had to be objective, I felt like the book was lacking in plot. The time period it is set in was quite violent and eventful, which is why I expected the story to tie itself with the political goings-on. I was let down on that front as this laid a heavy focus on Adhira’s family dynamics and the historical happenings remained in the background.
For anyone looking for a good historical fiction book set in the Rajputana at the time of Akbar, fans of the movie Padmavat, for those who love Indian dance or would like to get to know more about the culture of devadasis, I would absolutely recommend this book. I would like to emphasize that this is a slow-paced, character-driven story, so this is not something I think everyone would enjoy. Also, be aware that this has a heavy influence of Hindu culture and is told from the perspective of an all-Hindu cast set in a time period having major conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent. As a Hindu myself, I had no problem with these themes and loved the representation, but this is due to my inherent bias and I don’t think this would suit all audiences. Indian classical Hindustani music would be a perfect accompaniment to this along with a Rajasthani thaali, if you can manage it.
Have you read this book? Do you know any good Indian historical fiction? Let me know in the comments section below.