Book Review: Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy


Genre: Fiction

Publishers: Harper Collins India

Price: Rs. 499/- (I got the book for review from the publisher)

Behind the Book

A startlingly beautiful debut, Half Gods brings together the exiled, the disappeared, the seekers. Following the fractured origins and destines of two brothers named after demigods from the ancient epic the Mahabharata, we meet a family struggling with the reverberations of the past in their lives. These ten interlinked stories redraw the map of our world in surprising ways: following an act of violence, a baby girl is renamed after a Hindu goddess but raised as a Muslim; a lonely butcher from Angola finds solace in a family of refugees in New Jersey; a gentle entomologist, in Sri Lanka, discovers unexpected reserves of courage while searching for his missing son.

By turns heartbreaking and fiercely inventive, Half Gods reveals with sharp clarity the ways that parents, children, and friends act as unknowing mirrors to each other, revealing in their all-too human weaknesses, hopes, and sorrows a connection to the divine.

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"The prose itself is a marvel . . . Intimate gestures arrive like shafts of light throughout this lyrical and affecting collection, sparing us briefly from the dark." ―Tania James, The New York Times Book Review

"Like family members around a dinner table, the tales in [Half Gods] support, contradict, and argue with one another. They create a rich disorder. But the disjointedness of the portrait they form also speaks to trauma: how it can interrupt both chronology and one’s sense of self." ―Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

"Kumarasamy’s writing is lush and evocative, capable of wresting beauty from sadness and finding slivers of hope amidst great tragedy . . . Akil Kumarasamy has written a book for our time and our place." ―Michael Patrick Brady, The Millions

"Flooded with inspired detail. Kumarasamy writes with precision, crafting prose that moves with the grace of poetry . . . A testament to Kumarasamy’s talent for finding the most tender spots of the human soul." ―Grace Z. Li, USA Today

"An act of audacity . . . [Akil] Kumarasamy crafts her stories with great confidence, each sentence and detail devoid of ornamentation. Her great strength is her fully rendered characters . . . With Half Gods, Kumarasamy has created the perfect piece of art for this moment in American history . . . She has created a precision experiment in interconnection and story while simultaneously evoking a sense of nostalgia for some of America’s old myths." ―Don Kelly, Spectrum Culture

Kumarasamy is a shape-shifter, transitioning from the voice of a disaffected teenager watching the end of the war from afar to a lonely Angolan butcher hoping to fall in love with a kind patron. Each story connects with the others in subtle ways, offering a sense of unity between characters who often feel alone . . . Cruel and poetic lines . . . populate Kumarasamy’s writing, buttressing the indignities her creations are forced to suffer with some beauty.” ―Alana Mohamed, The Village Voice

"Each of these stories is a fully-formed thing, ten carefully sculpted little worlds. And yet each is so deeply interlinked with its neighbors that to label this a 'collection' feels like a disservice to the wider tapestry Kumarasamy has woven. Much like Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Kumarasamy is concerned with the repressed traumas and unspoken resentments that, left alone, can pry families apart piece by piece." ―Will Preston, The Masters Review

Startling and beautiful . . . Poetic . . . Many of the lines left me startled or staring at the page, trying to soak in everything I’d just read.” ―Book Fifty

"Brilliant . . . A masterful combination of strong, insightful storytelling and tangential political commentary . . . The themes are as ambitious in scope as the sprawling canvas . . . [A] must-read." ―Booklist (starred review)

"[Akil] Kumarasamy’s prose is gorgeous and assured, capable of rendering both major tragedy (war, the dissolution of a marriage, the loss of a child) and minor tragedy (a botched effort at matchmaking, a pitying Christmas invitation) with care and precision . . . A wonderful, auspicious debut." ―Publishers Weekly

"Kumarasamy writes with heart, wit, and an unflinching eye about the complexities of family, war, and finding one's home. Woven together by sentences that are at once surprising and satisfying, Half Gods spans the miles and decades that separate its characters with ease, the emotional resonance of the brothers at its core as indelible as the demigods for which they're named."Sara Novic, author of Girl at War

"These are wonderful stories, finely poised, beautifully written, and brimming with a rare wisdom. It's a pleasure to dwell in Kumarasamy's voice. In its shallows and swells, you'll find the most delicate visions of the everyday as well as the sweeping tug of history." ―Kanishk Tharoor, author of Swimmer Among the Stars

"Half Gods distills the mysteries of the human soul. In this age of displacement and sorrow, these stunning stories are reminders that even in the darkest times it is possible to write―to live―with clear-eyed compassion for others." ―Ceridwen Dovey, author of Only the Animals

'A captivating debut. Precise, beautiful and bold.' - Junot Diaz 

About the Author

Akil Kumarasamy is a writer from New Jersey. Her fiction has appeared in Harper's Magazine, American Short Fiction, Boston Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, and has been a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Province town and the University of East Anglia. Half Gods is her first book.

Reading this collection of stories was an experience that was totally indescribable. Written in a beautiful poetic language, the stories are ones that haunt you. The stories are interconnected with strong descriptions backing it, making them a a visual treat to read them.  The beauty is these stories form one large story, a narrative that leaves you spellbound. Though the stories span across generations and cities /countries they are woven by a common thread.

Loved the underlying theme of displacement which runs through the whole book, it is raw and intense. Every word is gripping and threatens to evoke a plethora of emotions in you. The author manages to transport us to U.S to Sri Lanka with her poignant story telling. It is a stellar debut, one that makes you sit up and take notice of her inimitable writing prowess.  Her provocative imagery coupled with a well-knit plot is what makes this book un-put-down-able!

Her writings reminded me of James Joyce and the likes. She has a way with words and she knows what she wants her reader to experience while writing her stories. Well layered plots and sub-plots of characters who are in some form of exile, explores their apathy beautifully.  The story sweeps through magical realism talking about war, loss, longing creating a mesmerizing effect.

Strongly recommended, don't miss reading this literary gem!

Foodie Verdict

This book is like Raj Kachori - Fully loaded and every bite is full of surprises!

Source: Veg Recipes of India