A tale of two continents

The Giants Look Down

 

Sonja Price

 

 

 

This gripping tale explores cultural differences, in two continents, through the life of Jaya and her brother.  An intelligent study of how one’s understanding of freedom is relative to education, experience and culture: a very poignant, contemporary message!

Jaya was born in a place where ‘the tiny mauve and yellow flowers danced in the breeze as the snowy summits of Pin Panjal meditated in the morning sun.’  Despite the beauty and implied freedom and romance of the landscape, the women are inhibited by their culture and the ugly politics of war torn Kashmir.  Jaya’s gentle, intelligent observations give an insight into her world as a Kashmiri girl.  Her mother asserts ‘you’re a girl’ and believes that ‘love rides on reason, not romance.’  It is clear Jaya is destined to search beyond this and it is impossible not to admire her questioning.

Jaya wishes on a ‘shooting star’ and the author maps out Jaya’s destiny beautifully.  The novel explores how the independent, free spirited mind can find flight if given the right opportunities.  But the opportunities must be accompanied with an inquiring mind. Jaya’s entrapment in Delhi is as stifling as the intense heat which ‘pressed down on city life like a giant hand.’ Her value, as a potential bride, diminishes once her parents have been killed.  She will find a way to escape a doomed arranged marriage – she is born to fight.

In contrast, Tahir, Jaya’s brother is forced to survive in a world of violence.  Here, Price examines how the innocent, accepting mind can become involved in terrorism.  Tahir’s life is written in the third person as he never finds his own voice.  Jaya’s story is written in the first person so that you can recognise her strength and identity.  She wants to be a wife ‘but (she) wasn’t going to give up everything.’  Ironically, the masculine stereotype and expectations shackle Tahir to a life of unfulfillment. Sadly, a lack of ambition and opportunity forces Tahir to accept his comrades as family.

Like her father, Jaya leaves ‘The Giants’ behind and moves to Scotland.  The cool Scottish breeze brings a fresh new perspective to Jaya’s life.  ‘The ocean! A slate grey stretching out to the horizon’ is symbolic of Jaya’s freedom and endless possibilities.  Meanwhile, her brother remains in Kashmir, and Tahir, believes the British to be the destructive force in his country.  He asks a British man, ‘Have you thought about the devastation your empire has left behind?’  He is unable to see how different cultures can collaborate and learn from each other. Tahir fights for his confused perception of freedom while his sister, Jaya, fights to save lives.  Jaya and Tahir’s father was a doctor. Jaya’s father involved her in his mission of caring for everyone, regardless of religion or race.

Jaya learns to inhabit the space between two cultures and finds her identity.  Her love for Alistair gives her stability, purpose and strength. Tahir is tormented by:

‘The poverty, the beauty, the peace and the violence.  Such extremes separated by the blink of an eyelid.

Tahir never examines his own world as he is too caught up in the conflict and grudges.   The natural ebb and flow of the Jaya’s narrative is enchanting while we never get inside of Tahir’s confused, inhibited mind.  The tale of two continents explores cultural difference: it is a wonderful book of contrasts.  For instance, the peaceful setting Kashmir Valley translates ‘paradise on earth’ yet it conceals conflict.  Jaya questions: ‘How could the landscape be beautiful when Alistair was suffering?’ Like Jaya, one must look beneath the surface.

This novel teaches us to have a respect and understanding of other cultures but we need the freedom to ask questions and pursue our ambition: above all, everyone needs to be loved. ‘Azadi’ (freedom) is a state of mind influenced by opportunities, the people we meet and the strength to ask pertinent questions.

A sensitive, well-crafted narrative that explores challenging themes through a beautiful central character. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly!

 

Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

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