CFBA Blog Tour – The Hope Of Shridula

From time to time I participate in the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance blog tour, and this second half of the week the group is focusing on The Hope Of Shridula (Abingdon Press) by Kay Marshall Strom. This is actually book 2 of the Blessings in India Series, but it easily reads like a stand-alone.

The Story. Shridula and her parents are members of the Dalites, or India’s chaste of Untouchables, enslaved to a rich landowner because of a small debt her father’s father owed. Trapped in what appears to be a hopeless situation, the world as they know it begins to unravel because this is 1946 — the British colony is fighting for independence and then to accommodate the strong and varied religions influencing different people groups. Trapped by their economic circumstances, helpless against the powerful, and now squeezed by political forces that are ripping apart the fabric of society, Shridula and her family have few options until a surprising way of escape opens.

Strengths. Some Christian publishing professionals claim that American readers don’t want stories about other peoples and other places. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I know I used to shy away from what I considered the “typical missionary story.” Not that I’d read many. But in my mind they were predictable and unrealistic. They put missions in the very best possible light and told only success stories.

Forget all that with Kay Marshall Strom’s work. Her novels are about real people facing real struggles. And she happens to be perfectly suited to write books about people living in underdeveloped countries, suffering hardship and abuse because of injustices they face. For years she’s written non-fiction based on personal interviews with people throughout the world. She’s been to India alone seven times. In other words, she’s done her research in the best way possible, and it shows.

In some ways, though, you have to be ready to have your heart broken because of what people suffering at the bottom of the caste system go through. Humble people, subservient people, hard-working, fearful, superstitious, loving people tied to a religion that debases them and offers little hope. Then to realize that the cultural Christianity of the minority clouds the truth, as well, the story seems destined to a hopeless end.

But in a deft way, Kay’s skill as a novelist shows God’s sovereignty, so that light and truth merge in a wonderfully surprising ending.

This is a quiet book in the sense that there are no car chases or clashing armies. But there is plenty of tension and suspense based on personal conflict and pressures, so it kept me turning the pages.

In addition, I immediately cared for the title character, a twelve year old put in a dangerous situation. Here’s the opening, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Chapter 1

South India
May 1946

The last of the straggling laborers hefted massive bundles of grain onto their weary heads and started down the path toward the storage shed. Only twelve-year-old Shridula remained in the field. Frantically she raced up and down the rows, searching through the maze of harvested wheat stalks.

Each time a group of women left, the girl tried to go with them, her nervous fear rising. Each time Dinkar stopped her. The first time she had tried to slip in with the old women at the end of the line the overseer ordered, “Shridula! Search for any water jars left in the fields.” Of course she found none. She knew she wouldn’t. What water boy would be fool enough to leave a jar behind?

By the time the girl finished her search, twilight shrouded the empty field in dark shadows. Shridula hurried to grab up the last bundle of grain. Its stalk tie had been knocked undone, and wheat spilled out across the ground. Quickly tucking the tie back together, Shridula struggled to balance the bundle up on her head. It shifted . . . and sagged . . . and sank down to her shoulders.

If you’d like, you can read the entire first chapter, but I think these opening paragraphs give you a sense of Shridula’s vulnerability, the quality that I believe won me to her right away.

Miraculously and without any preachiness, Kay navigates common pitfalls and delivers an ending that is not contrived, predictable, cliched, or overly simplified. This is a memorable story, exposing the light of God’s love in the midst of a dark world steeped in false religion.

Weaknesses. If you’re looking for literary prose, you won’t find it in this book. The writing is straightforward and crisp. Some might think of that as a strength rather than a weakness.

If you’re looking for sweet romance, you won’t find that in this book either. The story is far too realistic, exposing harsh realities, though in a matter-of-fact manner that reduces the horrific to the mundane. Perhaps that’s a strength, too, though I might wish the horrific dug a little deeper into my heart. It’s a hard thing to accomplish for a novelist, though, when the characters themselves, consistent with real life, accept their lot and suffer much of their abuse willingly or at least silently.

Recommendation. This is a must read for anyone willing to step out of the comfort of his or her own culture and to look at how limitless our sovereign God is. It’s a story that will hold your interest to the last page.

According to the FAA I must add, I received a courtesy copy of this book from the publisher as part of the CFBA blog tour.

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2 Comments

  1. […] I read and reviewed Kay Marshall Strom’s book The Hope of Shridula. That next week, the first book in the […]

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  2. […] Blessings of India books (The Faith of Ashish and The Hope of Shridula–see review here) and, what struck me so forcefully was the legalism of Hinduism. India of the 1940s was a society […]

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