02 Sep / The Archer by Shruti Swamy [in Booklist]
As in her lauded debut short story collection, A House Is a Body (2020), Shruti Swamy examines women’s ownership of their very selves in her first novel, which is set in a disappeared Bombay. Swamy divides Vidya’s young life into five distinct sections, focusing on pivotal developmental moments defined by her bonds (or lack thereof) with other women.
She’s initially nameless to herself while others are referred to as Aunt-Not-Mother and Father Sir as she’s raised by an extended family while her mother is institutionalized. By part II, motherless Vidya has become caretaker to her father and younger brother, while an all-encompassing passion for kathak (an exacting form of classical Indian dance) allows her to reclaim her sense of “I.” Part III places Vidya in college where her most significant relationship, beyond her kathak guru, is with a brilliant older girl. Then “I” becomes “we,” with Vidya seemingly content in a nontraditional marriage until suddenly she’s pregnant. Part V comes full circle as Vidya unexpectedly returns to her childhood home.
Each segment challenges expectations and exposes the limitations of being female. Beyond adaptation, sacrifice, and even erasure, Swamy provides no easy answers to the search for fulfillment.
Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, August 2021