Against the backdrop of a politically turbulent Assam, a young girl named Millie is determined to make her voice heard. She spends her childhood in a rural set-up with seven sisters, three anxious matriarchs and a resigned father this is what her small world is all about.
Born in a family of priests, she struggles with orthodoxy and convention, and goes on to become a student leader something which only foreshadows the bigger role she is destined to play. A flawed horoscope delays her marriage, but hastens her emancipation. Her tryst with romance is overwhelming, and sweeps her off her feet, but…
Ethnic clashes, militant activities, violent elections disturb the countryside, otherwise home to several tribal communities, lush tea gardens, exotic orchids, sundry birds, one-horned rhinos and much more.
I have always wanted to travel the world in order to experience the richness of other cultures. Architecture, landscapes, ethnic cuisine and historical tidbits have fascinated me my whole life; so when I get the chance to read about these places, especially countries of the Middle- and Far East, I do not hesitate to make the most of the opportunity. Voices in the Valley is the story of a middle class Indian family told from the point-of-view of their oldest daughter, Millie. Millie and her four sisters are seeking suitable husbands, but their parents are very particular about the candidates, causing unneeded family drama and inevitably pushing Millie in another direction - graduate school. Here, Millie takes on more of a leadership role and begins standing up for her politico-ethnic ideals and doing what she can to protect her country, even though she is up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Her family disapproves, more persistent about marriage, but their constant bickering hinders the situation more than it helps. Only after a tragedy does Millie discover that the only choice besides marriage is to break Indian tradition and follow her own path. This novel took me on a journey through a side of India that I had never experienced. The vivid and fully-immersive writing style transported me to the lush and colorful lands of Upper Assam, allowing me to “feel” the liveliness and emotion of such a beautiful culture/ location. My senses were enlivened by the aesthetic descriptions and artfully crafted dialogue. Even with the need for some grammatical corrections, I found Suravi Sharma Kumar’s use of metaphor and Indian language poetic and culturally stimulating - I loved the the ebb and flow of the Indian names; Leelaboti, Satya Nanda, Manosi, Zunaki, Omiya, and Bibha, etc.... I do not often hear names like these, and have an appreciation for their sounds and meanings. Speaking of characters, I was impressed by their well-developed personalities, as well as the integration of cultural/ societal norms and tradition. I enjoyed how the characters, particularly Millie and her sisters, interacted with each other and their environment(s). I could tell that Kumar was invested in each character, as was I. I learned a great many things about Indian culture and politics by reading this novel; every page held something new and exotic for me to perpend. There were a couple translation issues - to be expected - but they were only a slight deterrent from experiencing the rest of the book. That said, I admit Voices in the Valley was a challenging read - in a good way - due to the flowering prose and the use of beautiful, yet difficult to pronounce, foreign names. The book also took a few chapters to get into, but my interest in the topic kept me captive. I enjoyed the cover art as well! Recommended for readers interested in a sensory journey throughout northeast India, as well as in its ethnic and political spheres.
Rating: On the Run (4/5)
*** I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Suravi Sharma Kumar is a doctor by profession but has always been fascinated by the world of literature. What inspired her to write this book was the fact that most of mainland India is still unfamiliar with the country's Northeast and is unaware of its innate beauty. This is her first book and is based on her research and experiences in the valley.
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