September 2021

The Archer

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As a child, Vidya “wanted to be marked, altered, changed. Split open,” and by the end of Shruti Swamy’s novel, she is.
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Vidya is a girl set apart in her time, growing up in a crowded tenement in 1960s Bombay, a place that does not value girls as it does boys. She chafes against men’s unwanted attention, and her dark skin makes her feel alienated by her own extended family. Her mother’s mysterious ways perplex her, and her father’s demands keep a distance between them. 

But Vidya’s restlessness is a gift, though it will take many years for her to understand and embrace it. As she journeys slowly into womanhood, she takes up a serious, devoted study of kathak, the storytelling dance that mesmerized her as a little girl. Her process of becoming forms the heartbeat of The Archer, and the narrative shifts from third person to first as she matures and claims her place in her own story.

Shruti Swamy’s visceral first novel after her critically acclaimed story collection, A House Is a Body, The Archer blends the corporeal and the spiritual in a story about what it means to be a woman and an artist. Swamy’s writing is transportive, precise and almost hypnotic, not unlike the controlled and expressive dance form that Vidya loves. The author’s perceptive and observant eye misses nothing, from a single ripening mango on a tree to the inner workings of a young female mind. In depicting Vidya’s interior world, Swamy captures both the dark side and long-awaited light of dawn, of discovery, of fulfillment. There is darkness, yes, but also “those dreams where you remember you could fly.” 

As Vidya maneuvers through worlds—home, school, women, men and dance, always dance—she discovers life. As a child, she “wanted to be marked, altered, changed. Split open,” and by the end of the novel, she is.

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