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Graced storytellers, from all times, seize imaginations of their readers and plunge them within new learning, not always pleasant.

Such a storyteller is the Indian-American author Sejal Badani. Because her maternal grandmother’s shocking experience in the1940s still smarted, she felt compelled to weave some of her story into the novel The Storyteller’s Secret (2018). It unfolds like a finely wrought tapestry with panels of shimmering and jarring colors.

Meticulous research into Central India’s Madhya Pradesh contextualizes Amisha’s impoverished village: the irritant of the British Raj’s occupation, Gandhi’s teachings firing imaginations with independence, the Brahmans’ domination of the natives, the despised untouchables, arranged marriages and dowries, wives subservient to their husbands and their families, temple festivals and dancing, and household shrines with favorite gods and goddesses. Within this milieu barefoot Amisha works out her destiny wearing plain saris.

On every page tactile images engage the reader’s senses: feeling oppressive monsoon rains and scorching heat, smelling garbage-strewn roads and the dung of oxen, cows, and dogs, seeing candles illuminating the Hindu temple’s pantheon and oil lamps in homes, tasting spicy foods, hearing temple bells, shrieks, children’s laughter, and worked up by “joinings” or sexual activity—and always, the incense.

Badani’s dialogue works extremely well in propelling the story forward. Yet silences are pregnant with meaning: hurt, disappointment, violence, ecstasy, dread, and romance.

The New York Times and Amazon bestseller, The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani features Amisha, a spirited woman admittedly ahead of her time—the stuff of storytellers’ artistry. Do let Amisha touch you with her buoyant selflessness.

 

 

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Most families have one significant story that would hearten many if it were known. Happily for us, the American author Olivia Hawker picked up one around her husband’s dining room table and enfleshed Anton Starzmann within the pages of her historical novel, The Ragged Edge of Night (2018). A humble man, Anton lays bare his conflicted soul, enters fully into the challenges that beset him, laughs and cries from the core of his being: overtures that endear him to the reader.

And yes, this is another story oozing from the wound of World War II, from 1942 to 1945, set in a backwater hamlet, 40 kilometers from bomb-strafed Stuttgart, Germany. From the opening paragraphs, tensions chilled this reader: Anton’s selflessness as former Franciscan friar, husband to Elisabeth, stepfather to her children, and the scrutiny of Herr Franke, the hamlet’s collaborator; the innocence of developmentally challenged children and their killers; the “normalcy” of the hamlet’s lifestyle within bombing range of nearby Stuttgart; Anton and the pastor’s covert resistance with the Red Orchestra that plots the death of Hitler.

Within these tensions, Anton and Elisabeth skirt the edges of their marital and parental responsibilities within their deepening relationship.

Offsetting these tensions, however, are the bronze bells ringing from the belfry of St. Kolumban’s Church—hope infusing the evil that gags them.

Two salient points emerge from this reading: the farmers’ frequent laments of not having resisted Hitler’s menace, rendering them passive and horrified. And through bartering homegrown produce and livestock at their weekly market, no one starved.

Should hard times befall us, I shudder.

 

How often will an April freeze scorch a lilac shrub of its regal display? Or brown a full-blown magnolia tree, reducing it to widow’s weeds? Or blister-winds knife blossoms from apple trees and pastiche the ground with snowy whiteness? Or drenching rains wash away tender roots of newly planted annuals? Such losses burn, leave a sour taste.

Such feelings glimmer beneath the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s elegy, The Waste Land (1922): “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

It’s all about yearning, about holding onto glimpses of Beauty, whether experienced in nature, in loved ones, or in pets. Within these richly nuanced moments, we catch our breath, perhaps pick up pen or watercolor brush and set to work. For students of such industry, a trail emerges that evidences the expression of unstoppable Life, despite continuous setbacks, even death. The challenge is to begin, yet again, hopefully wiser until the next in-breaking of Beauty that stirs our roots with spring rain.

 

Available on Amazon

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