Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A Daughter's Courage by Renita D'Silva, a saga of south India past and present

Renita D’Silva takes the popular parallel-narratives format to a new level with her engrossing saga intertwining four women’s stories. They all center on a secret temple in south India, but the points where they meet, and how, aren’t easy to predict.

In 1924, Gowri is only fourteen when her parents dedicate her to the service of the goddess Yellamma in hopes of saving her younger brother’s life. She yearns to continue her education but, as a devadasi, instead she’s installed in a newly built temple, made to live alone at the jungle’s edge, and forced to sleep with the local landlord. Her pain and confusion are poignantly expressed in letters she writes to the goddess, questioning why she was sacrificed, and wondering why Yellamma doesn’t intervene on her behalf.

In another strand, a privileged Londoner named Lucy decides to marry a man she barely knows, an heir to a coffee plantation in India, in the wake of a scandalous love affair. Left to follow the trail of their secrets in the modern day is Kavya, who returns to her Madras home after major heartbreak. While there, she faces pressure from her overbearing mother to get married and learns about her ajji’s (grandmother, in Kannada) connection to a newly discovered temple that’s been attracting national attention. Introduced later on is the viewpoint of Sue, a recent war widow, whose link to the others is less obvious but critical.

This novel bursts with rich, sensual descriptions of southern India, though the word choices are sometimes odd (“the navy autumn scent of smoke”). All the women are fully rounded characters with well-developed personal histories, and the narrative skips briskly along as it ensnares readers in a story designed to keep them up far too late. The emphasis on women’s resilience and agency is subtle yet unmistakable.

A Daughter's Courage was published by Bookouture in late May in ebook format ($2.99/£1.99) and trade paperback ($12).  I requested it on NetGalley and reviewed it for the HNR's May issue.  This is my first experience with a Bookouture title, and my impression so far is quite positive.  The ebooks are certainly priced competitively. Renita D'Silva has written a number of other novels, some historical and some contemporary, set predominantly in India.  I enjoyed this interview with her about her publishing journey at Writing.ie.


  1. Replies
    1. Definitely, especially Gowri's story.

  2. Wow...Want to read it. Is it available as hard copy. By the way, South India...I want to read this not because I am from South of India jut because I have never too much from my own country....I loved the blog.

    Shalet Jimmy

    1. Thank you! Yes, it's available as a paperback too. I loved the South India setting, and the author put a lot of effort into the descriptions both of the small villages and cities. I'll go check out your blog.

  3. Read Renita D'silva's interview...I loved her writing with all those meticulous details...

    1. I appreciated her comments here: "I am fascinated by the past – how, at times, one choice, made by one person, can reverberate through the generations, the echo of one mistake/decision haunting further generations, defining them" since this is the type of novel I liked to read. I've bought a couple of her other novels after finishing this one.