Title: Shiva’s Arms
Author: Cheryl Snell
Release Date: March 27, 2010
Publisher: The Writer’s Lair
Genre: Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
When Alice married Ramesh, she did so because she loved him. She was used to the American way of life, and never expected that his mother, Amma, would play such a large role in their lives. Unable to adjust to her constant presence, Alice engages in a battle of wills with her mother-in-law in order to have some semblance of control over her life and the lives of her husband and son.
Shiva’s Arms was an interesting look at the cultural differences between the American and Indian ways of life. Snell does an excellent job capturing South Indian culture and rituals. Amma’s attitudes and expectations are culturally typical, even though they seem extraordinary to Alice. Admittedly, Amma is exaggerated, but Snell created a solid story through her characters’ attempts to overcome these cultural differences.
The main issue running through this novel is a lack of communication. Ramesh fails to let Alice know what she’ll be marrying into and what will be expected of her. As a result, Alice is completely unprepared to be a part of a traditional Indian family. Once the two are married, Amma and Alice have almost no communication. True, part of that is because they don’t speak the same language, but it’s mainly due to the fact that neither wants to communicate with the other. Amma is a matriarch, set in her ways and she expects everyone to bend to her will. She makes no accommodation for the fact that these expectations would be unreasonable even for a modern Indian daughter-in-law.
However, Alice is not much better. She makes her displeasure with Amma known very publicly. Rather than trying to understand Amma’s desires and discuss them with Ramesh in order to come to some sort of compromise, she simply gives into her anger. Both of these women are strong willed, refusing to see where the other is coming from. They manipulate the men, vying for some sort of control. I couldn’t really identify with either of these women. While I understood where they were coming from and why they were acting as they did, coming from an Indian-American marriage myself, I didn’t see why they couldn’t try to communicate.
Shiva’s Arms is a short book, though it covers a very large time span. Sometimes, the time frame was confusing because it isn’t clear how far ahead things were jumping. At one point, I assumed Alice and Ramesh’s son was just a little boy, but a few pages later, he was driving. It made for choppy reading because I had no idea what was going on sometimes.
This was certainly an interesting novel, and Cheryl Snell shows promise. I didn’t love the characters in this book, but I thought the culture was very well portrayed. Additionally, the way Alice and Amma finally overcome their differences towards the end of the book is satisfying. Alice’s devotion is touching, especially considering what Amma has put her through. I just wish it could have come at less of an expense!