Book Review – A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Poetry
Publication Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: Speak

“I’m a lone palm tree towering over grassy fronds of rice in a paddy field, yearning to touch the sky although I get lonelier the higher I go.”

A Time to Dance has a simple but absolute beauty. It is a captivating portrait of the rise, fall and spiritual rebirth of a young dancer, Veda, who loses her leg to an accident, yet is more determined than ever to dance. Veda’s dance is so valuable to her, so demanding of her body and spirit, that any pride that held her back before is no longer worth losing it.

I pretty much devoured this book in a night. I love the way this story is captured in loose but flowing prose that blossoms as naturally as flowers. The relationship with Veda and her grandmother was especially beautiful, always an offset to the strained feelings Veda seems to grow with everyone else.

The character development is well-executed, showing whose heart is shallow and whose is true when they treat her differently after her accident. Veda feels as if she is re-enacting in her own life, a smaller and more human version of the epic poetry she portrays on stage. The intertwining parallels between the narrative and Hindu mythology are creative, I have to say, and I also appreciate that the romance was not written at the forefront of Veda’s achievements.

“The strangers’ presence feels warm as a blanket, but not warm enough to thaw the sea of unshed tears frozen inside me.”

I don’t like to compare this novel with one of my most loathed, because I enjoyed A Time to Dance quite a lot, but it reminds me of a more sensitive, good version of Izzy Willy Nilly. They’re both about a promising athlete losing her leg and having to prove herself capable. I realize what I hated so much about Izzy Willy Nilly is that the protagonist never does overcome her struggle. That book was uncomfortably focused on blaming her for her misfortune. So much victim-blaming. There was nothing meaningful but reliving someone’s pain, with no hope nor retribution towards the one actually responsible for the accident.

Venkatraman’s poem avoids all of that to tell a personal saga, and is so much better for it. The characters are well-rounded, realistic, and importantly, it accepts that sometimes misfortune can just happen. That it’s something we all have to triumph at some point in one way or another, and it tells so beautifully. You definitely should read this, if it interests you in any way. It’s very difficult to find much to dislike about, and is one of the better free verse novels I’ve picked up.

“Mukam karothi vachalam; pangum langayathe girim. – God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”

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