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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

Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.59(d)

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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