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Shiva's Fire

Shiva's Fire

4.5 19
by Suzanne Fisher Staples

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By the Newbery Honor-winning author of Shabanu

On a day when fish leap among the stars and birds soar beneath the waters, a remarkable girl named Parvati is born in a village in the South of India. As she grows, she becomes known for the peculiar events that seem to spring from beneath her dancing feet, and is widely thought to have


By the Newbery Honor-winning author of Shabanu

On a day when fish leap among the stars and birds soar beneath the waters, a remarkable girl named Parvati is born in a village in the South of India. As she grows, she becomes known for the peculiar events that seem to spring from beneath her dancing feet, and is widely thought to have supernatural powers. When a great master of Indian classical dance comes to see for himself, he recognizes in Parvati a rare talent and invites her to study with him at his gurukulam in the city of Madras. There she commits herself to a rigorous and solitary program of study, dance, and devotion. But when she meets a boy with his own extraordinary powers, her life is turned upside down, and she must question the one thing of which she has always been most sure - that she was born to dance. In this powerful novel rich with mysticism, Suzanne Fisher Staples tells the poignant story of a strong girl who refuses to squander her magical gifts in the face of life's ordinary but perplexing mysteries.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If not for references to modern technology, this tale set in India might defy chronology; the folkloric narrative, primal settings and universal themes confer a timeless quality. Parvati, the heroine, has a mystical aura; some villagers think she carries doom because her birth coincided with an unprecedented cyclone that devastated the entire region. Parvati does not know if she is to blame for the destruction caused by the storm or the famine that followed, but she retains a memory of everything she has witnessed since infancy. As she grows up, animals flock to her, seemingly communing with her, and when music is played, Parvati cannot keep her feet still, no matter how hard she tries. Eventually, Parvati's talent for dance and spiritual gifts win her a scholarship to a gurukulam (a school run by a great teacher). But devoting herself to her studies requires sacrifices Parvati has not even dreamt of. The Hindu concept of dharma is as intricately woven into this saga as decorative threads are woven into Parvati's elaborate dance costumes. Staples's (Shabanu; Haveli) deceptively plain prose conjures a variety of moods, textures and images. Poetically and suspensefully expressing the sorrows and joys of the spiritual life as well as the life of the artist, this is a spellbinder. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Staples, a former UPI foreign correspondent, spent time in Pakistan, the setting for her Newbery Honor-winning Shabanu and its sequel Haveli; and she also served in India, the setting for this lovely, understated contemporary fantasy novel. Strange things occur on the day that Parvati is born. A terrible cyclone all but destroys her village, killing thousands; a crow speaks to her mother while she is in labor; her father is trampled to death by an elephant driven mad by the storm; and the local maharaja's son is born, apparently at the same instant that Parvati opens her eyes upon the world. Strangest of all, however, Parvati is conscious and entirely self-aware from the moment of birth, and she remembers everything. The death of her father reduces the family to poverty and Parvati, her mother and two brothers are forced to live on the sufferance of her uncle and her very nasty aunt. The little girl is recognized by the villagers from very early on as different, someone to be avoided and despised. Fish and birds come at her call. A deadly cobra refuses to bite her. Music is heard whenever she lights a fire. She sees a sandalwood statue of the Lord Shiva actually dancing, surrounded by flames. Most amazing of all, Parvati can dance the sacred bharata natyam virtually from birth and does so, on one occasion, in the middle of a cooking fire without being burned. Parvati grows up poor and an outcast in her village, but one day she receives a visit that changes her life. The Guru Pazhayanur Muthu Kumara Pillai, a master of Indian classical dance, has heard of her and recruits her for his gurukulam in the great city of Madras. Never having left her backward village before, Parvati is at firstawed by the big city, but soon settles in to the convent-like life of the gurukulam, where her waking hours are entirely devoted to chores, basic education and, of course, the sacred dance. Although she again finds herself isolated from the other students, who consider her as strange as did the people of her village, Parvati excels at her studies. The only excitement in her life besides the bharata natyam, occurs when another student, her only friend at the gurukulam, elopes with a famous bandit who has been secretly courting her. In a remarkably short amount of time, Parvati is named a devadasi, a full-fledged sacred dancer, and her fame spreads across India. Soon she is asked to dance before the maharaja, and she and the maharaja's son make a series of startling discoveries about each other. Eventually, Parvati finds she must make an almost impossible choice between the remarkable young man she has grown to love and the sacred dance which is her life. Staples writes beautifully and movingly about South Indian culture, treating the traditions of Parvati's people with respect and conveying just enough information to make her readers comfortable in their understanding of Hindu religious belief and particularly the bharata natyam sacred dance tradition. The horrific events that begin the novel, the cyclone, the deaths of thousands, her family's extreme early poverty, are dealt with in a straightforward, but understated fashion. What's finally at the center of this satisfying and magical book, what drives it to its conclusion, is Parvati's powerful and mystical connection with the Lord Shiva and the sacred dance. 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Michael Levy — The Five Owls, September/October 2000 (Vol. 15 No. 1)
The day that began with the Maharaja's birthday festivities ended with a rain so hard that an entire village's way of life was destroyed. On this day, Parvati was born and her father would die. From destruction comes creation, from death, life. So goes Shiva's dance and so begins the tale of Parvati. From the outset, Parvati is different from those around her. Even at a few hours old she seems to be able to read the souls of those who hold her. Her mother's milk never runs dry even though her mother is suffering from malnutrition. She survives when other babies die. And as she grows older other talents become apparent. She is able to communicate with animals and fish, drawing them to her and taming them. She sees movement in statues of the Hindu Gods. And she herself begins to move and dance with extraordinary grace and skill. These abilities and mysteries surrounding her lead people to fear and shun her, until one day a great master of classical Indian dance comes to see her. His offer to study dance with him carries with it a great reward as well as a price. Her family would receive money and she would receive the opportunity to study dance. But it would also mean that she would no longer live with her family and instead would live the solitary life of a devadasi. She accepts and so her life changes. At the gurukulam, she is the best dancer—she learns the steps quickly and performs them with beauty and grace. She quickly moves from novice to master and earns the chance to return to her village and dance her debut performance before the Maharaja. It is there that she meets Rama, the Maharaja's son, who shares her birthday as well as his own unusual abilities. But mostly they share acommon loneliness. Their friendship and romance force Parvati to make a choice between her passion and her love. Staples is a magnificent storyteller who beautifully recreates the colors, sounds and smells of India. Although this story is filled with tragedy it is less dark than Shabanu. Parvati seems to have more control over her fate. Her mother loves her and does not want to lose her, but allows her to choose between living a life of poverty in the village or pursuing dance. At the same time they both recognize that Parvati's decision to attend the gurkulam would mean money for the family and in this sense Parvati is still an object of exchange: she will be sold to the school. Still in the end it is Parvati's choice and this seems a better fate than Shabanu's. While the story is interesting and presents a culture and way of life unknown to many Americans, it is neither a quick nor easy read. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, HarperTrophy, 276p., Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Debra Mitts Smith; YA Libn., Glenview P.L., Glenview, IL
Parvati believes her birth caused the cyclone that destroyed her small Indian village, killing her father in an elephant stampede brought on by the storm. Her family is now at the mercy of an aunt who resents their intrusion into her home. When Parvati is twelve, a guru arrives in town to observe the young woman who can enchant animals and dance upon the fire. Few are invited to study classical dance at his gurukulau, but those who are bring wealth to their families. Soon Pavarti's family lives in a fine new home where she visits before dancing for the Maharaja. Parvati meets the son of the Maharaja, Rama, who shares her birthdate. There is a very strong psychic connection between them, but Parvati and Rama both know a future together is not possibleher destiny is to dance. As she begins to dance before Rama and his father, she hears the voice of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, recreation, and dance, softly instructing her, "This is it. You are the magic of possibilities." Parvati knows Shiva has chosen her as one of his own. Staples, the award winning author of Shabanu (Knopf, 1989/VOYA April 1990) and Haveli (Knopf, 1993/VOYA December 1993), has created another mystical, yet human, female character. This novel draws the reader into the exotic setting and spiritual world of sacred Hindu classical dance. The glossary with pronunciation guide helps readers understand Indian terminology. Young readers will relate to Parvati's dislike of being different and to her relief upon finding her place as a master dancer, a place where her unique abilities are honored, not feared. Glossary. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YAappeal;Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 12 to 15, 288p, $17. Reviewer: Ruth Cox
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Parvati's story begins with the most destructive cyclone in India's history, two mysterious births, and many deaths. From this foreboding beginning, Staples weaves the spell-binding tale of a young girl, magical from birth, whose destiny is to perform with the passion and skill of Shiva, the Hindu god of dance, destruction, and re-creation. Considered dangerously different, Parvati grows up lonely, trying to hide her mystical connections to animals, music, and fire. When a master of dance recognizes her "bad" talents as good ones, Parvati knows that her purpose on earth is to dance. However, when the fate of a maharaja's son becomes cosmically and romantically intertwined, Parvati must make a difficult choice about her destiny. This powerful story has everything--depth, mystery, magic, suspense, and romance. With captivating prose and a page-turning plot, Staples has created a narrative that is both folkloric and contemporary, and full to the brim with the sights, sounds, and smells of India. 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 12 up, $17.00. Reviewer: Betty Hicks

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.57(d)
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

"After a year most students are not ready to perform. There is so much to learn! A dancer from this gurukulam cannot go before the public until she is a master."

Parvati's heart ached with disappointment, but she said nothing. The Guru laughed a kindly laugh and Parvati lowered her eyes.

"But you are different," he said.

"How do you mean, 'different,' sir?" she asked. The Guru grew very serious.

"It's easy for me to see why you are impatient. The music is a part of you; it's as if you've always known how to dance."

Parvati wondered whether the Guru knew about her causing the cyclone and dancing in the fire, about the cobra and all the ways in which she was different. She looked back down at the floor for a moment, as if the answers she sought might lie imbedded in the straw mat.

"What is it?" he asked. She swallowed hard before she spoke.

"All my life people have thought of me as 'different.' Some people blame all sorts of things on me. It has caused my poor mother nothing but trouble. That is how I know I am different. Because of me my mother is an outcast in our village. And now you talk as if this 'differentness' is good!"

Meet the Author

Suzanne Fisher Staples is the author of Dangerous Skies, Shabanu, and Haveli. She was a UPI correspondent in India, Pakistan, and Hong Kong for many years, and currently lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Shiva's Fire 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This young adult fantasy novel is a richly descriptive and beautiful adventure in a fictional south Indian state, where a girl named Parvati is born in a poor family and strange, devastating weather strikes the community. Villagers shun her, treating her like a freak and believing that the village's problems are all her fault. She does indeed have magic powers, which she tries to suppress. She has a magical talent for dancing, a talent that goes unappreciated until a dancing guru arrives and asks her to join his school. As someone who has visited India, I found the book draws a vivid and realistic picture of the country. The characters come alive, and Parvati is a particularly sympathetic character and a strong heroine who must follow her heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When i first picked up this book i didn't think it would be this AWESOME but i read it because my friend told me i should & I'm a bookworm w/ a lot of time. I totally loved this book & learned a little bit more about my friend's background because even though she isn't from India(we both wish we were) she believes in dharma and karma and shiva, the god of destruction. AWESOME how that all ties into this and the hugest reason i love this book is because I love 2 dance & after reading this it got me more into my passion! I'm even going to buy a dancing costume liek the one in the book! Love it! A must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story captivated me, the ending is a killer and the beginning and middle ain't to bad either! The beauty in which the art of dance is described brings tears to my eye and I know i'll be hunting this book for my own personaly library.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Being born with a magical gift is not very quite often happened in this world, although it does happen in non- real worlds like the one of Parvati¿s. In the book Shiva¿s Fire, written by Suzanne Fisher Staples, the main character named Parvati is far more than unique from everyone else, she¿s special in a way. From the beginning she wasn¿t anything like the other village children in Nandipuram, located in the south of India. She was born to dance and that was her special gift from the God. She used to dance in front of the Shiva Nataraja¿s statue that, her father carved with sandlewood. She danced in front of a cobra snake without getting bitten and within the ignited flames of fire without getting even a singe to her or her clothes. During her childhood she was accused of bringing in a whole cyclone that destroyed the entire village and killed her father. This is either because of the auspicious timings of her birth or because she¿s abnormal from everyone else. On one normal boring day, Parvati received the news that she was selected to learn the Bharata Natya dance in the Gurukulam, located in Madras. Although she was not happy to leave her Family and go away, she felt proud and happy inside that she was doing her Dharma/ her duty as a dancer and that she¿s doing something that she very much loves. There, at the Gurukulam, she makes friends and discovers the magic of music(dance). Long after that, she meets a gentle-eyed boy who turns her life upside down. Although he gives her the thoughts of abandoning her special gift of dance, she picks the right way and that was to appreciate what god had given her and sacrifice to reach her goals in her life. I loved this book especially because it has to do with Hindu culture and I happened to be a Hindu so, I really understood and enjoyed this book very much. I highly recommend you read this book if you¿re interested in Dance, and would like to learn or read more about Hindu Religion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked the beginning best even though it was kind of gross that the father got smashed. Ever since i read this book for the first time i wished i could dance like Parvati could, i thought it sounded really cool. I have read this book at least 3 times and i never get bored of it. (i lov jewlrey and Parvati's sounds really cool)
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the best book ever!!!!!!!!!! One reason I liked it was because it was my kind of genre. I like adventure, suspense, romance, drama, and meaning to it. And my favorite plot, in India. I don't know why, but I love all books that take place in India. In this book, the meaning was about sacrifice and destiny. This was a book I really enjoyed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed it, let's just say I read strait for 12 hours, no food, no bathrooms, just read. This book really tells Parvati's story so that it that makes her look inncoent, not like a freak like so many of the characters beleive she is. This is a great book, it has dancing, indian food *yummy*, and adventure, so please read this book, it's just really great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
wow this book was great seriously ppl it takes u from the indian culture to indian classicle dancing its a beutifull tis great
Guest More than 1 year ago
Shiva's fire is interesting,captivating, truely magical. It is a fantastic book and I definatly reccommend it. If you dont read it you are missing out. READ IT!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great. It really kept me guessing. The title and the cover was what caught my eye at first. I couldn't put it down! I think it needs a sequal, though. I was a little bitter when it was over! ;)
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must admit, the cover is what made me buy it. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but go ahead, for this book it works! The story itself is just as colorful and intriguing as the front picture! It is a very different culture to what I'm used to, which makes it wonderful, and the plot isn't what you expect. It's a lot more complex, and I love the other characters... you'll see what I mean.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was brought to my intrest when I saw the cover... I was thinking 'wow! this is the same dance I learn!' so I bought it. The next thing you know I could not put the book down! Staples uses only the highest quality of writing with diferent twists and an allover outstanding plot to keep you into it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I, myself as a bharatanatyam dancer, thought this book was fantastic and helped me understand and learn more about the wonderful art. This book is a must!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my all time favorite books. I strongly recamend it to anyone who loves India, the Middle East, and a story you just can't put down. It's great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When i read this book i feel in love with the it. I read it 3 years ago and today it is still one of my favorite. I will always remember this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm half Indian, and I totally embraced my Indian side after reading this book. The culture is so beautiful, and the whole plot of the book was just awesome!!!!!!!! I love the whole Rama and Parvati thing, too. lol Rama sounds hot!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing!! as the friend of two Bharatha Natyam dancers, i understood it. It inspired me to want to learn all i can about Bharatha Natyam and India. Anyone who loves India, should read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is like a dance itself, skillfully written and danced. It is positively stunning and I look forward to more from this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many books and this is one of the very few that is very special to me. As soon as I was done reading it I had to run out to Barnes & Noble and buy it. It is now one of my favorites!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an Indian who takes Bharat Natyam, I understood all of it. When I recommmended it to my friends, I thought they never would be able to understand it but they did. this book is the best book ever. :-)
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely BRILLANT!!!!!!!!!!! One of the greatest books of our time!!!!!!!! There should be a copy of Shiva's Fire in every school!!!!!!!! I would give Shiva's Fire an endless number of stars if I could!!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was so amazing and since i am from india i really enjoyed this book. i have also taken barat natyam which is what kind of dance parvati does in the book.