This story follows the life of Devi, who was born in Coorg in southern India in 1878, the first girl to be born into her family in more than sixty years. Her family is a loving one, and they are soon joined by young Devanna, following his mother’s suicide. Devi and Devanna, who is a budding scholar, become inseparable. That is, until Devi sets eyes on Machu, who is known far and wide for his bravery in killing a tiger. Despite her young age, Devi knows that this is the man she’ll marry. Yet Devi’s and Devanna’s lives are tragically intertwined, and their relationship affects the future of a number of key characters. Devi is headstrong and often blind to her own motivations and actions, yet she is a character for whom the reader will mostly have sympathy, even while lamenting her effect on those around her.
Coorg and its customs are lovingly described by Mandanna, who herself was born there. Readers can see how mores changed from the time of Devi’s birth to the period between the world wars, when we follow more closely the lives of Devi’s sons, Nanju and Appu. In her author’s note, Mandanna lists the primary and secondary sources she drew upon to paint a picture true to her native Coorg, but this research sits gracefully within the book. A glossary of terms is provided to help readers understand less familiar terms. Because such terms will vary from reader to reader, the glossary is extensive in its coverage.
I found myself thinking frequently of Devi and her family even when I wasn’t reading the book – an excellent sign of its hold upon me.