Book Review

The Archer

The Archer

  • Author: Shruti Swamy
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing

Thank you to libro.fm for providing me with an ALC of this audiobook. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily. If you’d like to get a copy of this audiobook and support indie bookstores, you can do so here.

CONTENT WARNING: misogyny, mention of abortion, suicide

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As a child, Vidya exists to serve her family, watch over her younger brother, and make sense of a motherless world. One day she catches sight of a class where the students are learning Kathak, a precise, dazzling form of dance that requires the utmost discipline and focus. Kathak quickly becomes the organizing principle of Vidya’s life, even as she leaves home for college, falls in love with her best friend, and battles demands on her time, her future, and her body. Can Vidya give herself over to her art and also be a wife in Bombay’s carefully delineated society? Can she shed the legacy of her own imperfect, unknowable mother? Must she, herself, also become a mother?

Intensely lyrical and deeply sensual, with writing as rhythmically mesmerizing as Kathak itself, The Archer is about the transformative power of art and the possibilities that love can open when we’re ready.

Getting an ALC of this book was a spur of the moment decision, but I’m so glad that I chose it. It’s a story that is going to stay with me for quite some time. It’s a coming of age story for a young girl in India and I couldn’t help but get sucked into the story. Sneha Mathan was a fabulous narrator and did an amazing job of bringing Vidya’s story to life.

When the story begins, Vidya is a young girl and it’s difficult not to empathize with her. She spends a lot of time without a mother in her life, and her primary duty is to care for her younger brother and father. But when she finds a form of dance called Kathak, she finds a new purpose in life. It serves to define her for the rest of her life. 

As Vidya grows, she faces a whole new set of challenges. As a dark-skinned girl, she faces colorism, sexism, feminism, and classism, and has to come to terms with her sexuality, mental health, and her place in the world — especially when it comes to marriage and bodily autonomy. While many of these issues are universal, it was intriguing to see them through a different cultural lens, especially during the time period in which this story was set. Since it took place in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the Western world was undergoing a cultural revolution, things were quite different in India, which still adhered to a more traditional perspective in many things, especially marriage and family. 

While my own life experiences are vastly different from Vidya’s, I found it quite easy to empathize with her story and her struggles. I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess that I’m not the only one who has struggled with feeling lost. Vidya seemed to often feel stifled by the path that is set before her, and I truly felt for her and wanted her to find joy in whichever path she chose. 

The story was very character-based, and while these generally aren’t my cup of tea, this one was fantastic. I found myself listening intently, chapter after chapter, just to find out what happened next on Vidya’s journey. The cast of characters was well-created, and I felt transported to a completely different place while listening. I highly recommend this one. 

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