Friday, 2 June 2017

Emma's Review: A Daughter's Courage by Renita D'Silva

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

How much would you sacrifice to save your family?

1929. When a passionate love affair threatens to leave Lucy in disgrace, she chooses a respectable marriage over a life of shame. With her husband, coffee-plantation-owner James, she travels to her new home in India, leaving her troubled past behind her.

Everything in India is new to Lucy, from the jewel-coloured fabrics to the exotic spices. When her path crosses that of Gowri, a young woman who tends the temple on the plantation’s edge, Lucy is curious to find out more about her, and the events that lead her to live in isolation from her family…

Now. With her career in shatters and her heart broken by the man she thought was her future, Kayva flees from bustling Mumbai to her home town. A crumbling temple has been discovered in a village nearby, and with it letters detailing its tragic history – desperate pleas from a young woman called Gowri.

As Kavya learns of Gowri and Lucy’s painful story, she begins to understand the terrible sacrifices that were made and the decision the two women took that changed their lives forever. Can the secrets of the past help Kavya to rebuild her life?

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A Daughter's Courage is the second book I have read from Renita D'Silva and once again she has written another stunning story which showcases the deep passion she has for the country of India. In this story she has highlighted the customs and traditions which bound the people that live there and in doing so has written a book full of family secrets, heartbreak and tragedy. All these elements combined to make for a read that once you got started it was hard to leave out of your hands unless really necessary to do so.

I will admit there were a lot of characters for the readers to familiarise themselves with and without the chapter headings saying what character would be featured I would have become very confused. This was only in the initial stages of the book as once I felt the book had found it's rhythm and the story was starting to develop I could keep the characters, their settings and the different time frames clearer in my head. I found myself trying to establish connections between the characters far too early on and grasping at dropped hints but I was playing the guessing game far too soon and was glad I had not guessed the eventual outcome until the author herself felt it was time for the reveal and to tie the loose ends together.

Each chapter alternates between four different women's viewpoints and at different time frames and places, stretching from the 1920's right up to the present day. The settings vary too from that of Mumbai to a more rural Indian setting and for a short while England. Having four different women it was inevitable I was going to prefer one or two over the others and that turned out to be the case. It must be challenging for any author to keep four strands separate until the pivotal moment of connection and realisation but here the author carried it off easily, yet still at the same time I found myself wanting to read more about some characters than others. I suppose some elements of the story really grabbed me and held me in their thrall whereas at other points I was racing through some chapters to return to the person I really was intrigued by.

As with Renita's previous book I found A Daughter's Courage to be a really visual story and also a feast for the senses. Right from the subtle prologue as the author created a picture for the reader of a temple long ago abandoned and now overrun with vines and trees as well as the little cottage beside it. I could easily visualise this scene in my head and brief though the prologue was it provided many questions which I desperately wanted the answers too.

Kavya is living in Mumbai, a busy city where she worked in a café while attempting to launch herself onto the Bollywood scene. She is a woman who lives life on her own terms but recent events have caused her stress and strain. She has admitted to herself that she has to return home to her family, to concede defeat even though she has tried so hard. Underneath it all Mumbai has seriously wounded her and although she attempts to keep things secret you can tell all is not well and she has been scarred by what she has gone through. Having a pushy mother who never wanted her to go away in the first place doesn't help matters. Kavya's life had long been mapped out for her so to go against the grain caused plenty of upset. Kavya's mother seems almost gleeful that she will return home but an event which makes national headlines on the television and in the newspapers takes the matriarch’s eye off her daughter's life. An elephant has gone on the rampage near a small village and in doing so has unearthed something near a long forgotten temple and cottage. National outcry abounds but just what connection has Kavya's grandmother to the area so recently thrust into the spotlight? I did wonder were there too many female lead characters in this book. Yes Kavaya's story was heartbreaking but I felt it could have been explored in greater detail, that we barely scratched the surface as to what was going on with her. In the end I realised she was essential in joining the dots so to speak but I never fully warmed to her.

In the modern day as Sue is in London grieving for her husband, she receives some unexpected news which at any other time would be most welcome but now she doesn't know how she should feel about things. How can you fully enjoy happiness when you are so mired in grief and everyday is a battle just to keep yourself going? I felt every bit of the pain Sue was experiencing through such honest, heartfelt writing. She did pop up quite suddenly midway through the story and I thought not someone else but again I was quite surprised by the role she would play. The incident in India catches her eye and sparks something within her and maybe this is what will help her emerge from the cloud of grief she is in. Maybe it will not heal her but help her along the way.

We meet Lucy living in England in 1927. She has had a privileged upbringing and is embarking upon her début season with best friend Ann. Ann has quickly become engaged and Lucy feels put out that she will be left on the shelf and the closeness and the bond she has with Ann will disappear. Lucy seemed quite flighty and was not going to venture along the path her mother had all neatly planned for her. Lucy dreams of travel, of going to far flung destinations to see the complete opposite to her world. Unfortunately an event sees Lucy in disgrace and marriage to anyone who would take her is the only option. What exactly went on in shrouded in secrecy but one can read between the lines. How on earth could Lucy be connected to a temple in India? It's only the more we move forward in the story it becomes clear and Lucy in my opinion became a much better character to read about. She is taken from all her comforts and everything that is familiar to her and transported to a very different exotic world, one in which tradition and respect play such a vital role. Lucy has been through an awful experience and the reader can clearly see moving to India and marrying someone you virtually just met is very very difficult but something or someone may provide what she didn't even know she was looking for.

The main female character who stands apart from the rest and who was my favourite to read about was that of Gowri. We first encounter her aged 14 in 1924, her family don't have an easy life yet Gowri herself has big dreams and aspirations and her teacher Vandana Ma'am would love to see her fulfil them. The discovery of a golden statue by her father whilst ploughing is believed to be fate, good luck, the fortunes of the family will transform. Unfortunately for Gowri this is not the case, she is almost like an animal being sacrificed. Everything she has so desperately wanted for herself is gone in an instant and all due to tradition and custom. A new temple is constructed and Gowri is forced to forever leave her family and leave in the cottage alongside. Gowri will be the devotee to the goddess of the temple. Her life will never be her own again. Every hope and aspiration has vanished. I found this custom of devada's fascinating and appalling in equal measure. It's a side to India's history we don't hear about yet the author has brought it to life on the pages and provided such a balanced viewpoint. How can it be right for women to be kept from their families and then left to dedicate their lives to a goddess. Through this system they became pariahs and isolated and  were treated with absolute disdain.  The landlord character was abhorrent and treated Gowri like a piece of meat.

It's through the letters Gowri writes to the goddess that we became familiar with how she is feeling and how she copes on a day-to-day basis with the situation she finds herself in. This was an excellent means of getting inside Gowri's head as she cannot interact with many other characters bar the landlord and one other male character at some points. Her loyalty to her family prevents her from running away for fear of what may happen to them if she does so. Time and time again I felt such pity for Gowri but in my mind she was the strongest of all the female characters, she showed such spirit, courage and tenacity. The lonely lifestyle she led would have driven anyone else mad but there was something deep inside her that was driving her on and if she left go of this she may not have continued on. I enjoyed the fact that at later points in the story she began to have elements of happiness and though if something similar would occur in today's society I would not necessarily approve of it yet back in the Gowri's time because of everything she was experiencing I felt she deserved some happiness no matter how big or small.

What ties the four women together? Well at times I thought I had figured everything out when in fact I was grasping at things and making far too big assumptions without concrete facts on which to base them. The twist when it came wasn't as mind blowing as I had hoped for but I think that's simply because I had built everything up so much in my head. Will all the family secrets come to light or will it even be possible to find resolution and some acceptance. Or has the rediscovery of the temple just opened a can of worms best left closed? All the answers await you in A Daughter's Courage and through such wonderful, elegant and deeply captivating and emotive language Renita Di'Silva has written a thoroughly enjoyable book that historical fiction fans will love and those who love the country of India will love too.

Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of A Daughter's Courage to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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