Traveling from the ashrams of India to the underground rock scene of New York City, Blue-Skinned Gods explores ethnic, gender, and sexual identities, and examines the need for belief in a fractured world.
In Tamil Nadu, India, a boy is born with blue skin. His father sets up an ashram, and the family makes a living off of the pilgrims who seek the child’s blessings and miracles, believing young Kalki to be tenth human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.
Kalki is confronted with three trials in his tenth year—tests of his power that will prove his divine status and, his father tells him, spread his fame worldwide. Over the next decade, as the story of his family unravels, his relationship to everyone—his dominating father, his beloved cousin, his cancer-stricken aunt, and the young woman he imagines he will marry—threatens to fall apart. At once a personal tale of youthful searching, and a magisterial, continent spanning tour-de-force, Blue-Skinned Gods is unwaveringly honest and heartbreaking, a powerful novel told through the eyes of a wonderfully winning and idiosyncratic protagonist.
It’s all very well to be an outsider looking in, to see the calm, serenity of an Ashram, to see the Kalki, the young boy with blue skin, proclaimed god, healer and to believe so utterly in what is presented. Yet what if you were on the inside, what if you were Kalki that blue skinned boy we first met age 6? That was Sindu’s aim to take us to the inside to hear Kalki’s voice, his thoughts, his feelings and what a story.
I was amazed at the strength of Kalki’s voice, of Sindu’s ability to translate that into her narrative, the ten year old forced to pass 3 tests to prove his status as a God. You saw his anguish as he so desperately wished to succeed, the pressure from his father, the scrutiny from those around him. His best friend Lakshman and his Amma seemed to be the only people he could be himself, to enjoy being a ten year old.
As the years progressed, the pressure on Kalki increased the net his father wound around him grew tighter. Sindu made you feel frustration as those around Kalki warned him that it was all a scam, yet the constant brainwashing persisted, his mother the one person that kept him tied to the ashram.
When escape finally arrived you wondered if it was too late but loved the wonderment and naivety, the confusion felt by Kalki as his mind tried to unwind to switch off from everything he had been told.
You could enjoy the novel purely for the excellence of the story and the writing or you could chose to examine the undercurrents and themes explored so brilliantly by Sindu. I chose to do both, angry that as with most things in society money seemed to be the main driver, Kalki’s fathers desperation to control, to push Kalki to the extreme to pull the wealth he craved. But was it more than that, was it also about power, status, recognition, a perverse sense of what was right, what the world needed, could not do without. You could also question Lakshamn’s motives as he helped his friend navigate a new world, his use of Kalki to further the fame of his band, and ultimately make them money.
And what of Kalki, how does he break free, learn to speak and think for himself. You knew it would take time, and Sindu gave us little glimpses of that free mind, of the strength he slowly regained to push forward and be his own person.
Sindu’s narrative was emotive, brilliantly conveyed Kalki’s story and provoked anger, frustration and numerous questions from this reader.
I would like to thank Legend Press for a copy of Blue Skinned Gods to read and review and for inviting My Bookish blogspot to participate in the blogtour
About the author
SJ Sindu was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Massachusetts. Sindu is the author of the novel Marriage of a Thousand Lies, which was selected by the American Library Association as a Stonewall Honor Book, as well as nonﬁ ction I Once Met You But You Were Dead, which won the Split Lip Press Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest. A 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow, Sindu holds a PhD in Creative Writing