Saraswati's Way by Monika Schroder is an upper elementary/middle grade novel about a boy Akash, who loves math and dreams of attending school. His existence is hand to mouth at best as he and his widowed father live in a rural Indian community, trying to eke out their existence. When his father dies, Akash leaves home and begins life on the streets of India. He comes in contact with different groups of people who try to tell him how to survive, sometimes giving him bad advice. Akash's story certainly brings to light the problem of children living on the streets of India. While I've never seen the movie, I had visions of Slumdog Millionaire in my mind as I read. Akash is blessed with a gentleman who befriends him and helps guide him in a more positive direction, but certainly most of the children in India who are left to the streets are not as fortunate. Readers will certainly have their eyes opened to this population of children and the struggles they endure. Akash's love of math, the various math and number tricks that are shared make this a great book as well. I can see many a teacher enjoying this as a read aloud.
Karma: A Novel In Verse by Cathy Ostlere is also set in India - this time in 1984 when Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Maya has grown up in Canada with Indian parents who left their country because her mother is Hindu and her father is Sikh. Inter-religious marriages are frowned upon in India and the two decide to make their life far away from their homeland. Now, Maya and her father are returning to India. Maya's mother has died and the two are taking her ashes to her family. During their visit there Indira Gandhi is killed and the country is in upheaval. Maya and her father get separated and Maya is eventually taken in by a family. Their son, Sandeep, also keeps a journal and it is by reading his diary entries that Maya's story is revealed.
While I am not always a fan of novels in verse I enjoyed the way this book was written. When I first realized that this book was to be set during Indira Gandhi's assassination I was hoping to learn about this event in history. There was not as much about this as I hoped for and despite the wonderful reviews I read about this book, I had a harder time getting into this one.
The last book, and the one in which I learned the most about India by far is Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy. I love memoirs, so getting to read of Kennedy's time in India as a reporter was fascinating to me, especially since I read her book on the heels of two other books also set in India.
Kennedy verifies everything I discovered in Saraswati's Way about children living on the street. The focus of this book is really what life is like for women in India, and the different ways in which Indian women live compared to women from the United States. Kennedy was accustomed to being independent, yet when she moved to India it became obvious from the start that her life would be dramatically different. Even renting an apartment was difficult since many landlords didn't want to rent to single women. While there Kennedy made friends with some different women who she also writes about as they date and are also on a quest to find a husband. Even today marriages are mostly arranged, and love matches are not common. Kennedy writes of the smells and sounds of India, the weather, the fashion, the caste system all with the ability to make me feel as though I were transported to this faraway country.
India is such an interesting country and all three of these books did a great job of generating even more interest in this culture.