June 27, 2011

Karma by Cathy Ostlere + Author Interview

Release Date: March 31, 2011
Publisher: Penguin/Razorbill
Pages: 528
Series: n/a
Review Source: Library

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi is gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards. The murder sparks riots in Delhi and for three days Sikh families are targeted and killed in retribution for the Prime Minister’s death. It is into this chaos that sixteen-year-old Maya and her Sikh father, Amar, arrive from their home in Canada. India’s political instability is the backdrop and catalyst for Maya’s awakening to the world. KARMA is the story of how a young woman, straddling two cultures and enduring personal loss, learns forgiveness, acceptance and love.

My Thoughts:
What a beautiful novel! I believe this is actually the first book I've read that was written in verse, so that made me a bit nervous at first. I wasn't sure what to expect, but thankfully I found it quite easy to sink into. The writing is gorgeous and flowing, and the subject matter is at times horrifying and then beautiful. The political aspects of the work were fascinating. The book is set in 1984, right before I was born, and I have to say I don't know a lot of went on in India around then. I knew the basics, but this opened up my eyes to what it must have been like for people trying to survive.

So many parts of this book are incredibly intense, and the way they're written about is amazing. So much of the book makes you feel the same way that the characters are feeling. I guess my only complaint is that the relationship between Sandeep and Maya seemed to happen so quickly because we weren't privy to Maya's thoughts during that time period. I love the way that the narrative is split like that (it's a powerful statement), but I really missed hearing from Maya, and it made the conclusion seem very sudden.

Overall, though? This is an incredibly amazing book that deals with so many issues. Politics, racism, religion, family, homeland, gender, love, etc. So many issues are addressed, yet it doesn't seem like an overload. All these things are ingrained in the text in such a specific way, and the messages brought across never seem forced. I absolutely fell in love with Maya, a beautiful and strong girl who was of two worlds, yet belonged to neither.

The Cover: It's so pretty, I love the colours. Represents the romance aspect well, but not the other (more important and serious) parts.


Find Karma by Cathy Ostlere on Goodreads, Book Depository, & Amazon.ca

I'm so pleased today to be hosting Cathy Ostlere, a fellow Canadian and the author of Karma, for an interview. 'Karma' is such an interesting book that just makes you want to talk about it, so I was very excited when Cathy agreed to answer some of my questions.

For those who don’t know, what inspired the story of Karma?

A three-month trip through India in 1984 inspired this story. While I travelled across the country, I was sensually challenged by noise, crowds, filth, poverty, and sometimes felt frightened, particularly the weeks after Indira Gandhi was assassinated. I had to work very hard to accept this often wild, passionate, complicated country on its own terms. When I was finally able to pull back the veil of my own fear, I was standing on the Ghats of Varanasi in front of a burning funeral pyre listening to prayers for the dead – this was when I learned to love the country. India is beautiful, rich in history, religion, and culture, and has had a divisive past. I decided to explore some of these complexities by setting Karma during the ’84 riots when thousands of Sikhs were murdered for retribution. It was a bold, often uncomfortable decision on my part and much of my time was spent getting the facts and the emotions accurate.

How easy (or difficult) was it to get into the heads of both Maya and Sandeep, since perspective shifts throughout different parts of the novel?
I never felt like I was in their heads. It was more like sitting in my office listening to Maya and Sandeep talk to me while I wrote down everything they had to say. Sandeep was always funny, a flirt, and generally irreverent, in spite of his own painful memories. And I was pleased when he started to settle down and take his life seriously. Maya’s breakdown was horrible to experience and even I wasn’t certain that she’d be able to pull herself out of it. The arrival of her mother’s voice at Maya’s moment of need showed me that in spite of Leela’s death, Maya had been mothered well enough and could ensure her own survival.

I love that the characters' voices came to you like that. It definitely makes them seem more real.

What types of issues were you trying to address when writing Karma? Did you go in with a specific message in mind, or did the elements rise up organically?

I did not start (or necessarily even end) with any kind of intended message. Karma was completely character-driven. I always asked questions of my characters like: What would Maya do next? What does Sandeep want to do and what is stopping him? Why is Akbar so mean and angry? But as the story unfolded, it became clearer that the two main characters were motivated by love, a sense of duty (to themselves and each other), truth, peace, and forgiveness. But these are the things they taught me in the writing – I did not place the words in their mouths so I could stay on message. For me, Maya and Sandeep were very real, independent people.

That's so lovely! I often find that the best novels that deal with "issues" tend to be the ones written with the characters in mind, without trying to put a specific message across.

Was writing the novel in verse natural for you? Have you written in verse before?

Surprisingly, writing in verse was very natural. Karma came out of stream-of-consciousness writing that I was able to pull apart, phrase by phrase. I loved working with the text until I felt the line was tight, almost bare, but bursting with imagery, sound, truth, or a voice. This is my first work of verse. And I may do more but the verse would have to suit the story and characters. Karma’s style was organic and true to its origins and I believe that would have to be true in my future books.

If you only had 3 words to describe Maya, what would they be? What about Sandeep?
Maya: independent, passionate, self-reliant
Sandeep: curious, moral, humorous

What are some of your favourite recent YA novels?
This is an every changing list, but today this is what pops into my head: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Keesha’s House by Helen Frost; His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman; The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little; and, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. Okay, so those aren’t very recent. I better get reading! Do you have some suggestions?

Oh, do I ever have some suggestions. ;) I'll have to send some titles your way.

What is something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?

I didn’t plan on having any children and I have three!

I’m afraid of camels.

I get nervous when I write – my stomach flips!

What can readers expect from you next?
An adult novel and a second YA novel set in a foreign country – not sure which book will be finished first. I’m also working on a film script for my first book, Lost: A Memoir.

You can visit Cathy at her website, or follow her on
her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Cathy, thank you so much for stopping by Book Labyrinth today. 'Karma' is such an inspiring and powerful book and I hope that some more people will pick it up after reading your well thought out answers.


  1. First of all, the cover of this one is absolutely gorgeous! So simple and eye-catching:) I love stories that are character driven and then through the creation of the characters really great messages come through. I haven't heard much about this one so thank you for the review and interview!

  2. Colorful cover. I'm intrigued to see how it is created in verse.

  3. Wow, sounds like she's got a lot of exciting projects in the pipeline! We can't wait to read Karma first, though. Everything we hear about it excites us more and more. Thanks to both of you for this great review and interview!

  4. I never knew Karma was written in verse and I never really took a good look at the cover until now. I always thought it was just pink with the title and some squiggly lines coming off of it.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment; I appreciate each one!


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