Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: 'Louisiana Catch' by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

India born New York author Sweta Srivastava Vikram spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories about women, multiculturalism, wellness, and identity. She has been featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time” - she is a proponent of mindfulness writing coach, headstand-devotee, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Sweta work has appeared in The New York Times and in publications across nine countries on three continents. She is a graduate of Columbia University and lives in New York City writing and teaching yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.

Her novels reflect her concerns with women’s abuse and LOUISIANA CATCH echoes her beliefs: ‘A grieving daughter and abuse survivor must summon the courage to run a feminist conference, trust a man she meets over the Internet, and escape a catfishing stalker to find her power. Ahana, a wealthy thirty-three-year-old New Delhi woman, flees the pain of her mother's death, and her dark past, by accepting a huge project in New Orleans, where she'll coordinate an annual conference to raise awareness of violence against women. Her half-Indian, half-Irish colleague and public relations guru, Rohan Brady, who helps Ahana develop her online presence, offends her prim sensibilities with his raunchy humor. She is convinced that he's a womanizer. Meanwhile, she seeks relief from her pain in an online support group, where she makes a good friend: the mercurial Jay Dubois, who is also grieving the loss of his mother. Louisiana Catch is an emotionally immersive novel about identity, shame, and who we project ourselves to be in the world. It's a book about Ahana's unreliable instincts and her ongoing battle to determine whom to place her trust in as she, Rohan, and Jay shed layers of their identities.’

The plot thus described only hints at the power of Sweta’s writing. Her message is clear but made more intense by her poetic prose. She paints the essence of her lead character in the opening powerful paragraphs – ‘My name is Ahana Chopra, and I was born and raised in the most ludicrous city in the world: New Delhi. Sometimes, I feel New Delhi doesn’t understand me. Other times, I don’t understand it. I don’t think I’ve ever found a way to bridge the differences between what I was and what I was expected to be in this city. In Delhi, you find the majority running away from something, stashing away some secret but pretending to be happy. In Delhi, you always need to be on your guard. Thirty minutes ago, when I was out for an evening run close to my office, a group of men sitting on their motorbikes and sipping tea in small glasses started whistling and making loud kissing noises, “Baby doll, 36 DD!” I covered my chest with my arms and looked around. The streets weren’t empty, but harassers in New Delhi fear no one— neither the police nor the pedestrians. Two of the men got down from their bikes and started to walk toward me. I moved away from them and scoped out a different route mentally. I could taste bile in my mouth; my running route and routine represented a small zone of freedom for me, and I could feel it being stolen away. I pushed my glasses closer to my face and noticed a small path across the street where no automobile could enter. I didn’t think when I sprinted through the moving traffic— with the cars honking, people rolling down their windows and cussing at me. I fell down a couple of times and bruised my shin. But I got up and wiped myself off. I ran until I couldn’t see the harassers.

Raw, real, and profoundly moving, this is a very fine novel that begs for continuation in the form of a series. Sweta’s honors are well earned. Grady Harp, April 18
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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