Awakening Kali is set in the 1900s in Bengal and opens with the myth of the Indian goddess Kali, who savors the taste of the demon blood she has consumed and dances a primal victory dance of destruction until she realizes that she may have destroyed something she loves.
Fast forward to quite a different world in 1937: one in which Kali slumbers and her wrath has left the world. In this world, Chhaya is the youngest daughter in a family that doesn't want her, and she finds a new beginning in life when she is married off to a man who really loves her.
But Chhaya's world trembles under the weight of love, newly awakening the destructive fires of Kali. Is Chhaya cursed or blessed, and will the slumbering powers of her own passion destroy everything she loves?
Awakening Kali is a unique read about another culture, another time, and cross purposes. It's infused with pending disaster, it creates a captivating story of wrath and various forms of mental illness, and it places characters at odds with their world.
The rich culture and traditions of India are an integral part of a story infused with mythology and social tradition, while Chhaya's choices and challenges and India's perspective on mental illness is exquisitely portrayed, woven into a tale of love, madness, and change.
Dialogues between protagonists create powerful scenes in which insanity is displayed and probed. Self-knowledge is often a part of mental illness, and as Chhaya descends into a dark place, she admits what is going on even as she's helpless to change it.
Many stories about mental illness are set in Western cultures. To find one that reflects the cultural norms and social perspectives of another world is exceptional, and to wind a plot from the different perspectives of protagonists caught up in this world and its limited choices - well, that is extraordinary.
Awakening Kali is more than a novel about obsessive-compulsive mental disorder. It's a story of how that condition becomes a part of Indian society and how it transforms the lives of all it touches, offering a riveting, compelling read that is hard to put down and especially recommended for any with an interest in mental health stories in general and Indian culture in particular.