DANCING TO THE FLUTE by Manisha Jolie Amin


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Spun from the lush, rich culture of India, Amin debuts with the story of Kalu, who finds his destiny in raag.

Raag is music, a classical expression of India’s soul, and Kalu is a boy who arrives in the village of Hastinapore with no memory of family or home. To survive, Kalu accepts any chore. Ganga Ba, a widow, begins watching over him, and her servant girl, Malti, becomes Kalu's surrogate sister. Then, a night creature bites Kalu’s foot, causing it to swell, fester and reek of infection. Unable to work, lurking half-starved in a banyan tree, Kalu rolls up a leaf and plays a musical note of absolute purity. Vaid Dada, an itinerant healer resting in the shade, hears the music. When he discovers young Kalu, Vaid Dada treats the injured foot and leaves Kalu to recuperate in Ganga Ba’s house, telling Kalu that upon his return, he will ask for payment. While Vaid Dada is absent, Kalu slips away to a cave beneath an old tree. There, he finds a large curved black stone, a shiv-ling, a symbol of Lord Shiva. He begins practicing with a little plastic flute. One day, he mesmerizes a magnificent cobra into dance. Afterward, Kalu unearths a beautiful rosewood flute. Vaid Dada returns and tells Kalu his payment will require Kalu to follow him to the mountain retreat of Vaid Dada’s brother, a reclusive musician who retired when “applause and adulation became more important than…the music itself.” As the tale unfolds, Kalu becomes surrogate son to his mentor, Guruji, blossoming, learning to experience all that is real and true through music. In a secondary narrative focusing on the changing place of India’s women, Amin follows Malti into an unhappy arranged marriage, then divorce and independence. Delicate, sometimes meditative and rich with allusions to India’s spirit as expressed through music, the novel offers readers color and culture, poverty and riches, through every sensory perception. 

A lyrical meditation on love, friendship and finding bliss in destiny.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7204-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


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