Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy is a new collection of short stories that all touch in some way upon the journeys of two brothers who are both named after demigods from the ancient text The Mahabharata. These stories, while spanning great distances in geography and time, all feel like parts of a larger work, a family narrative that is startling and beautiful. The book won’t be released until June, but I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. I almost hate that the release date is in June, because this book would fit perfectly with May’s theme for the 2018 Reading Challenge: Family Ties.
I really enjoyed reading this book, mainly because it offered me diversity in both genre and subject matter. Each story is narrated in a unique way, and I loved watching how the larger family history unfolds as each new character shared his or her side of the story. I also appreciated that the book touches on a culture and a history with which I am very unfamiliar. I did read The Mahabharata when I was in college, but I admit my knowledge of the ancient Hindu epic has grown a little shaky since then. It’s not surprising, then, that I was a little confused at first by all of the different cultural references in the book.
In addition to some cultural confusion, the historical context was also unfamiliar to me–almost every story deals directly or indirectly with the Sri Lankan civil war. I’m not familiar with the intricate details of that conflict, but I learned a lot about it from this book. The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted 25 years, and some estimate that as many as 100,000 people lost their lives over the course of the war. The stories in Half Gods paint vivid pictures of what it was like to experience these conflicts firsthand. To me, learning about world events like this always serves as a sobering reminder that the world is much, much bigger than my little sphere. I also love that this book shows struggles and triumphs together–incredible hardships and the bonds that help us overcome them.
Kumarasamy’s writing style is quite poetic, and many of the lines left me startled or staring at the page, trying to soak in everything I’d just read. But because each story was narrated in a unique way or from a different character’s perspective, the artistic style rarely felt overwhelming. I would say that’s one thing this book does really well–the higher, more poetic style doesn’t feel forced; it elevates the stories and makes them feel almost mythological.
On the whole, if you enjoy good, literary short stories that open your eyes to diverse people, faiths, and experiences, check out Half Gods! It releases June 5 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Thanks to FSG for the chance to read and review this book!!