A fictionalization of a historical and seminal life, engaging, frustrating, and so immediately evocative of anger that the reader is fully engaged in just pages. Skillfully rendered, here is a girl becoming a woman in a high-caste Brahmin family in 1866. Rama is entering on her eighth year, a member of a family on perpetual pilgrimages, temple and shrine attendances; that speaks only Sanskrit, surviving by reciting the sacred stories.
Designated a Scholar by her father, a man whose total dedication is to the worship of Krishna, Rama discovers the gender restrictions of their belief system, and of her caste. In this process of discovery, we see the impulsive and compulsive tuggings of a man’s religious obsession on the lives and welfare of his family. In a mileu where wife and children are subject to the husband’s will, Rama, her mother, brother, and sister experience the rootlessness, material uncertainty, and ultimately the fatality of being on that hook of parental whim and illusion.
Because she is required to learn, as a scholar, Rama acquires proficiency in Sanskrit, the sacred stories, in public speaking, and the manipulation of audiences.
Despite her erudition, even after the deaths of all but her brother, Rama is forbidden, by his male dominance, to practice her recitative prowess for years of continued journeying.
Finally reaching Calcutta, the young woman has exposure to a learned audience, becomes known for her Sanskrit learning, and from there her story does nothing but expand.
The most significant aspect of this tale is the reality, for the actor, of the spirit or imaginative world. To her youthful self, the numerous Hindu deities are real personalities, actual actors on the world stage. And when she is eventually exposed to the Christian concept of one god, that imaginary world takes over her mind.
She is intellectually adroit, adding languages, texts, scriptures, arguments, with genius-level acumen. Through a marriage, a child, widowhood, travels and studies in England, America, and conflicts within the sects of her new faith, Rama continues to grow.
Biblical interpretations, quotations, and historically researched sermons evoke a stultifying obsession as the lady’s drive to rescue high-caste Hindu child widows evolves into missionary zeal. Impulsive course shifting, imperative and self-willed life decisions, becoming more manipulative of others in her later life, become reminiscent of a previously met character. In her personal, inescapable labyrinth, Rama becomes her father, infecting those about her with religious hysteria, with a self-motivation of love and delusion, yanking her beloved daughter’s life about.
Adding to reader uncertainty is the very real depiction of the frequent advent of death on the subcontinent in that era. Coupled with Rama’s own impulsiveness and self-will, reader reaction is constant apprehension.
Cleanly written, subtle in the treatment of intimacies, with excellent sensorial immediacy, Rama’s Labyrinth is a weekend’s engaging pursuit.