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Shiva's Fire    by Suzanne Fisher Staples order for
Shiva's Fire
by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTrophy, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Parvati is born on the same day that disaster strikes both her family and her village in Nandipuram. A cyclone destroys the village and her father Sundar, the most talented of the mahouts who look after the raja's elephants, is crushed to death. The baby, her mother and her brothers are taken in by her uncle Sathya, but resented by Auntie. Growing up in poverty, Parvati is mesmerized by the Shiva statue that her father carved, which dances for her at night ... its 'feet moved furiously, and the earth spun beneath them, and the fire danced and reflected from his raised arms.'

The little girl is different, aware of her surroundings even as a babe, and odd things happen around her. Shunned by her aunt and the villagers, and blamed for the catastrophe and the sickness that follows it, Parvati is entranced by music and dance. Eventually a guru hears of the 'miracles' that surround her, and offers her the opportunity to attend his 'gurukulam', a very demanding and disciplined school of dance. She is torn between the pain of leaving her mother and her need to dance. That and the income the school has promised to her family send Parvati to the gurukulam in Madras. Her talents shine at the school, but odd things still happen, and the other girls resent her abilities.

Parvati makes a friend of Nalini, but soon loses her to a 'dacoit' (a Robin Hood style of robber) that Nalini met in the bazaar. Parvati trains long and hard, and soon makes her 'arangetram', her debut as a dancer. It's a huge success and Parvati's life comes full circle when she's asked to perform for the Raja back home in Nandipuram. She is able to spend time with her family, and make a new friend of Rama, the Raja's son, who has also grown up feeling responsible for the village's disaster. Parvati is torn between her passion for her art and her feelings for Rama and must make a choice. After she gives an impeccable performance, Shiva whispers to her that she is 'the magic of possibilities.'

As in Shabanu, Suzanne Fisher Staples paints a rich cultural background into a coming of age story, in this case of a young woman with a strong innate talent and a passion for the art of dance. The author shows what devotion Parvati's art requires and what satisfaction its perfection brings.

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