The Archer by Shruti Swamy
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616209902
Hardcover, $26.95, 293 pages
The first thing you notice about Shruti Swamy's novel The Archer is the striking cover- a young woman dancer caught in midspin. I immediately wanted to know all about her.
The story opens in 1960's Bombay with a young Vidya, who is not living with her mother or brother, but with her father, aunt and two cousins. After a time, her mother and baby brother return home, but Vidya cannot remember why her mother and brother disappeared for a while, it is a mystery not to be discussed at home.
Vidya is dark complected like her mother's family, and her father's family treats her differently as they are lighter-skinned. Her paternal grandmother says Vidya also has her mother's temperament, calling her "restless and unsatisfied", and it telling her it will lead to problems in the future.
While her mother is taking singing lessons, Vidya wanders into a kathak dance class and is mesmerized. She wants nothing more than to dance like the young women she saw. When Vidya's mother discovers that she wants to take dance lessons, she tells Vidya that it takes discipline and practice. Then her mother tells her the story of Eklavya, a young boy who wanted to be an archer and what he had to sacrifice to do it.
Vidya is accepted into dance class, and her teacher requires complete dedication to dance, which Vidya is only too happy to give. As the years go by, we see Vidya attending an English scholarship school where she excels in academics and continues her dance instruction.
When Vidya goes to college, she studies electrical engineering, and does very well in her classes. She finally makes a good friend in Radha, a fellow female engineering student, who tells Vidya that she may have to make a choice between dance and engineering as both require rigorous devotion.
In her heart, Vidya is a dancer. She trains with a reknowned teacher who requires perfection, something that Vidya strives for in her life. When Vidya earns a solo dance performance, she is so filled with joy, but her teacher's comments take her aback.
The Archer is a beautiful coming-of-age story for Vidya, with the book divided into five sections, each one dealing with a different part of her life. We see her grow from a young girl who finds her passion in dance, and how she strives to continue to live a life that honors her art, even though society asks something else of her. If you are someone for whom art is your passion, you will get even more from this beautifully written story. If you loved Alka Joshi's The Henna Artist, put The Archer on your list.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Shruti Swamy's tour.