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Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin
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Dancing to the Flute (edition 2013)

by Manisha Jolie Amin

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223476,730 (3.63)None
Member:JGoto
Title:Dancing to the Flute
Authors:Manisha Jolie Amin
Info:Atria Books (2013), Edition: Original, Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Fiction, India, Coming of Age, music

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Dancing to the flute by Manisha Jolie Amin

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When I chose this book as the first book of the summer for my summer book club, I got a little bit of push back. Apparently they are not all as enamoured of Indian-set novels as I am, but since they have ceded all choosing to me, I'd made my choice and was sticking to it. And thankfully none of them were as unhappy after reading the novel as they had been upon seeing the list. Isn't it funny though, how different our tastes are? The good news is that Manisha Jolie Amin's new novel, Dancing to the Flute, is a very engaging coming of age novel and ultimately worked well for the book club.

Kalu is a young orphan boy who lives on the street and gets by running errands for pay, scrounging for food, and accepting handouts. Despite his difficult life, he is a sweet boy who has made friends with Bal the buffalo herder, Malti a serving girl, and even acquired a patron of sorts in Ganga Ba, Malti's mistress who often finds or manufactures small tasks Kalu can do for her. In its own way, the whole village of Hastinapore looks out for him and ensures his nominal survival until he injures his foot so badly that he can no longer run the errands that gave him a purpose and a tiny measure of pride. He is hungry and in pain when he climbs a banyan tree, rolls a leaf into a flute, and blows sweet, pure music through it. Below the shady tree that morning, unbeknownst to Kalu, is a vaid, a traveling healer, who will change the path of Kalu's entire life after listening to Kalu's impromptu, entirely self-taught concert from high above in the leaves of the tree.

The vaid not only heals Kalu's infected foot but he also offers to take Kalu to his brother, an outstanding and reclusive musician, so that Kalu can study with a master and expand his gift. So much good fortune for a small, abandoned boy who had had faced such adversity already. And so Kalu goes off to the vaid's brother Guruji's home far away to learn the fundamentals of Indian music, specifically the raag. But as Kalu grows into manhood amongst new friends, he keeps his old friends, those who supported and loved him as an urchin, in his heart. He learns music to better his life as much for them as for himself.

This is a touching book about loyalty, friendship, and love. Written in sections meant to reflect the structure of the Indian raag, Amin has captured the story of a coming of age, the tragedies and the triumphs, the growth, the spirit, and the perseverance that make up music and life. Her depiction of rural India is beautifully rendered and very descriptive and her knowledge of music is extensive. Like the raag the story imitates, there is a slow build in the beginning, a joining in of the melody, an increase in tension, and a final breath of completion. Kalu's story contains all the power and strength of the emotion contained in his entire being. Amin's narrative is skilled and evocative and even those who don't understand music will be transported to Kalu's India and the true heart of a small boy forever loyal to those he loves. ( )
  whitreidtan | Sep 17, 2013 |
The book is written in the form of a raag. The raag is a melodic mode of Indian music. A raag is a melody based on five or more notes. The mood it conveys is more important than the notes that are used.

This book is a quick read and I was very caught up in the characters and the story. It felt like I was there with them in India. Kalu is a poor street kid who does errands and odd jobs to earn food and money. Kalu does not know who his parents are or his birthday. He was abandoned as a child. When his foot becomes infected he becomes unable to work. A healer or vaid treats his foot, but Kalu must pay him back. Kalu is mysteriously led to find a rosewood flute by a snake that he charms with his music. When the vaid returns Kalu offers the flute to him as payment. The vaid instead requests that Kalu move to his brother, Guruji's house to live and learn the flute. This begins Kalu's journey in life.

Kalu leaves his two friends Bal and Malti to live with Guruji and his servant Ashwin. Here he learns about the flute, music and love and affection. He becomes like a son to Guruji. Guruji's most important lesson to Kalu is that love doesn't come without pain. Bal is a buffalo herder. His family sold him for money. Kalu wishes to share his good wealth with Bal. He proposes that Bal come live with him and Guruji and Ashwin, but Bal wishes for independence and refuses. Later in the book Bal takes a fatal fall off a cliff. Malti is a servant girl who is waiting for her brother to graduate from college so that she will have money for a dowry. She ends up in an arranged marriage with a man who doesn't love her and treats her poorly. She seeks affection and has an affair. When her husband realizes she is pregnant he tries to douse her with kerosene in an attempt to kill her. Kalu offers to take care of her and the baby, but Malti wants to raise her daughter on her own and be her own person. Ganga Ba is the woman who employed Malti prior to marriage. We find out that she was a second daughter and that her mother tried to poison her. When that didn't work her father tried to kill her by pushing her down a well.

Although these are all tragic scenes in the book, the book is not really that dark and depressing. It shows how each character deals with life as it is dealt and becomes stronger and grows. Kalu leaves his home in the mountains with Guruji near the end to be on his own and make his own way in London, but then realizes that his home is in India with the people that he loves.

The characters and events in this book are believable. It is well written and the story flows well. There is a magic element of music woven throughout the book. Right before the end Kalu's music saves a boy from jumping off a bridge and committing suicide. Many words used are not English words, but they are usually followed by the English equivalent. I give this book high praise 5 out of 5 stars. A must read!!! ( )
  Pattymclpn | May 26, 2013 |
Dancing to the Flute is a coming of age story that takes place in India. Kalu, a sick and homeless street urchin, is discovered by a healer when he hears him playing music, using just some rolled up leaves. The healer takes Kalu to live with his brother, Guruji, who is a recluse musician. Guruji recognizes Kalu's musical gifts and trains him in the art of playing traditional Indian raag music on the flute. Amin includes the sights, sounds, smells, and foods of India in the narrative. She puts in folklore and dialect, as well. Yet, for whatever reason, the setting does not come alive for me, which was a big disappointment. Nevertheless, the story flows nicely, and the characters, including Kalu's friends both before and after his success, are interesting and believable. The book comes complete with a glossary and discussion questions at the end. ( )
  JGoto | Dec 29, 2012 |
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Set in rural India, "a ... story of a community's joys and sorrows, the transformative powers of music, the many faces of friendship, and a boy's journey, against all odds, to become a man"--P. [4] of cover.

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