In the spirit of Khaled Hosseini, Nadia Hashimi and Shilpi Somaya Gowda comes this powerful debut from a talented new voice—a sweeping, emotional journey of two childhood friends in Mumbai, India, whose lives converge only to change forever one fateful night.
India, 1986: Mukta, a ten-year-old village girl from the lower caste Yellama cult has come of age and must fulfill her destiny of becoming a temple prostitute, as her mother and grandmother did before her. In an attempt to escape her fate, Mukta is sent to be a house girl for an upper-middle class family in Mumbai. There she discovers a friend in the daughter of the family, high spirited eight-year-old Tara, who helps her recover from the wounds of her past. Tara introduces Mukta to an entirely different world—one of ice cream, reading, and a friendship that soon becomes a sisterhood.
But one night in 1993, Mukta is kidnapped from Tara’s family home and disappears. Shortly thereafter, Tara and her father move to America. A new life in Los Angeles awaits them but Tara never recovers from the loss of her best friend, or stops wondering if she was somehow responsible for Mukta’s abduction.
Eleven years later, Tara, now an adult, returns to India determined to find Mukta. As her search takes her into the brutal underground world of human trafficking, Tara begins to uncover long-buried secrets in her own family that might explain what happened to
Mukta—and why she came to live with Tara’s family in the first place.
Moving from a traditional Indian village to the bustling modern metropolis of Mumbai, to Los Angeles and back again, this is a heartbreaking and beautiful portrait of an unlikely friendship—a story of love, betrayal, and, ultimately, redemption.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 18, 2017)
I am always slightly leery of book blurbs that claim a new book is similar to favorite books or authors. The Color of Our Sky is said to be "in the spirit of" works by Khaled Hosseini and Shilpi Somaya Gowda and I was worried that it wouldn't live up to The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, or Secret Daughter and The Golden Son--all books I loved. It turns out that I didn't need to worry, The Color of Our Sky holds it own with these other books and is a beautifully crafted and moving story. It isn't always easy to read, delving into harsh subjects like the caste system, human trafficking and the sexual slavery of women and children, prostitution, violence, poverty, and illness. I think it walks a good balance of being heart-wrenching but hopeful and it showcases the courage and strength of two women, friends of unequal backgrounds who are torn apart but who never forget each other.
The story is told in the alternating points of view of Tara and Mukta, from the 1980s up through 2008, and illustrating the very different paths their lives take on a fateful night in 1993, shortly after the Bombay bombings. Mukta's chapters are the hardest to read, she's born into a family of temple prostitutes in a small village and it seems she is going to be able to break away from that fate until she is kidnapped from Tara's home and sold into slavery. Tara and her father move away from India and its memories and she has an easier life in California--although neither she or her father are ever the same due to their losses. Tara holds a lot of guilt from her role in what happened that night and comes back to Mumbai as an adult to find Mukta, in part to assuage that guilt. It took me longer to warm up to her than it did Mukta and stop judging her for her childhood mistakes. There are bright moments throughout the book--mostly Tara and Mukta's memories of the times they shared and although the book is close to 400 pages, the back and forth and the tension about whether or not Mukta would be found made it move quickly. I found myself completely caught up in the story and vested in the well-drawn characters, full of hope that redemption would happen. As tough as the parts of Mukta's life in the brothels are hard to read, it is important to be aware of the enormous and shameful problem of human trafficking that is rampant all over the world and this book gives what feels like a very realistic view. Ultimately it is a beautiful book about friendship and love and although not one for the "light and breezy" pile, it is absorbing and well worth reading.
Author Notes: Amita Trasi was born and raised in Mumbai, India. She has an MBA in human resource management, and currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two cats.
Find out more about Amita at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
It's hard for me to read any book set in India and not immediately crave Indian food and although it's not a focus of the book, there was definitely food to be found--along with many cups of hot and cold chai. Food mentioned included: saffron in pulao (rice), turmeric in dal, sweet rasgulla (a dessert), golas (crushed ice pops), ice cream, and sherbet, tea and sandwiches. energy bars, rice, pickles, chutneys, curries, pakoras (fried vegetable snack) Limca (lemon lime soda), jalebi (sweet fried dessert), chapati, paratha, and roti (flat breads), dahi wadas (lentil dumplings), American finger foods at a party like cheese and crackers, chicken tenders, salami, chips and dips, and veggies like carrots, tomatoes. onions, potatoes, and brinjal (eggplant).
I ended up deciding to make chai or tea, since there was so much tea in the book and chai masala which is spiced tea, often with milk. I make masala chai frequently at home, drinking it both hot and iced but I wanted to see how my favorite Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey makes hers. I have several of her cookbooks and recipes abound but I found this great article on Food 52. that talks about how she changed her recipe to use whole spices and less milk and I wanted to try it.
I have included Jaffrey's ingredients and outlined the basic recipe below but I encourage you to read the Food 52 article as it has all of her tips and tricks in it.
Madhur Jaffrey's Masala Chai
Slightly Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey via Food52.com
3 cups water
4 cloves or so
4 cardamom pods
1-inch piece of cinnamon bark or cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp ground ginger (Jaffrey says fresh ginger can curdle the milk)
3 black tea bags
1 cup whole milk or milk of choice (I used coconut)
sugar or honey to taste (Jaffrey uses 4 teaspoons of sugar)
Place the 3 cups of water into a medium saucepan. Add the masala--cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and ginger and the three black tea bags and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the milk and sweeten to taste, bring to a gentle simmer again, then remove pan from heat and pour contents through a fine mesh strainer into your teapot or serving vessel. Discard tea bags and spices. Taste and add additional sweetener or milk if needed. Serve and enjoy.
Notes/Results: Making your own chai at home will make you wonder why you bother ordering it at Starbucks or other coffee shop. It infuses the kitchen and house with the heavenly aroma of spices and it is quick, easy and you can store any leftovers in the fridge for iced chai or heat it up (just be sure not to boil it so the milk doesn't curdle). I like Jaffrey's blend, which is fairly close to my own although I tend to work in some star anise and coriander seeds into my blend. But the beauty of it is that you can put in your favorite spices and change the amounts to your preferences. You can also use whatever kind if milk--dairy or non-dairy you prefer and adjust the sweetness. I used about 3 tablespoons of honey in my blend because I don't like mine that sweet and it was perfect. I also used Bigelow Tea's "Constant Comment" black tea which is flavored with orange rind and sweet spice as I like the touch of citrus flavor it adds. You could also add orange rind to your masala mix. I was low on cardamom pods and it gave me an excuse to stop by the Indian market on the way home from a meeting where I gabbed some of their homemade samosas. Their spicy pea and potato filling went perfectly with the tea for an afternoon snack.
This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs for Potluck week--our week to make any dish from our current or any past IHCC featured chef. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links.
I'm also linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of the "The Color of Our Sky" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins, and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.