Not to be Overlooked
By Natalia Alvarez and Sandhya Christine Theodore
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore and Girl Made of Gold by Gitanjali Kolanad.
Girl Made of Gold by Gitanjali Kolanad
Gitanjali Kolanad’s debut novel is set in the 1920s in South India. It follows the story of Kanaka, a temple dancer and courtesan. One morning, she fails to arrive to play her part in a ritual. In her place, is a golden statue of a dancing girl in the temple’s sanctum. The priest in charge, as well as her mother, says that she has miraculously turned into a statue. But when two bodies are found near the temple, the people of the town begin to search for less supernatural answers.
The story is narrated by various people in Kanaka’s life; her friend, lover, family, teacher and others who are loosely linked with her story. The author weaves together a non-linear narrative from the points of view of many people. As the reader gets to know Kanaka, they also learn about the varied cast of characters including a selectively mute girl of the devadasi community, a queer member of the royal family and a former priest with leprosy.
The story is loosely based on the legends and testimonies of devadasis. The author also attempts to create a historically accurate setting. The author’s expertise in Bharata Natyam, a classical dance form practiced by the devadasis, is reflected in the book. Words from the regional dialect are sprinkled throughout the book as it seems to be written for a primarily Indian audience, but other readers will still be able to follow the story. The book gives the reader a glimpse into the history and culture of the region.
While the mystery itself is not dramatic or shocking, the story is a look into a unique culture. The author does not gloss over the exploitation prevalent in a caste-based social structure. But her characters are not one-dimensional as they serve a purpose to the story beyond their caste or economic status. Girl Made of Gold is a murder mystery but also a story of struggle and desire. It is a great book for readers who enjoy character-driven mysteries or historical fiction.
Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore
For this issue, I have chosen to review Margarita Montimore’s third novel Acts of Violet which was released in July 2022 by Flatiron Books. Fans of Montimore’s work were heavily anticipating her next release after the success of her award-winning second novel Oona Out Of Order which is currently in the works for a TV show.
The novel follows journalist and podcast host Cameron Frank as he begins his new show focusing on the lives of famous people who have disappeared. With the ten-year anniversary of world-renowned magician Violet Volk’s mid-act disappearance just around the corner, it is only natural that her life be the first up for examination on Cameron’s show. He does extensive research - emailing people Violet knew in different periods of her life, including fellow magicians, potential lovers and even family members. When these people are brought onto the show to interview, they always have different, sometimes contradictory opinions of Violet. These accounts give us the readers a biased and inaccurate depiction of who Violet was. We are unable to form a concrete opinion on whether Violet was a person worth caring about. There are as many people who ridicule her as there are those who praise her.
The novel is also told through Violet's sister Sasha’s point of view, who up until this point had refused interviews or given any sort of opinion on her sister's personality or her thoughts on her disappearance. With each episode, the host delves deeper into Violet's life and brings up old memories Sasha has tried hard to block out and forget. Her decision to remain neutral and withhold her opinion makes the media question her and the relationship she had with her sister. They want to hear what she has to say and with Cameron’s show putting Violet at the front of everyone’s thoughts, the crazed fans start coming out again, harassing Sasha and her family for answers they do not have.
This really was an interesting read from beginning to end. The author does a wonderful job building up suspense surrounding Violet's disappearance and accurately portrays the media frenzy that happens in pop culture today when a scandal breaks out and questions are left unanswered. Additionally, with narration taking place mostly through transcripts, emails and documentary outlets, reading this book felt like I was piecing together the story right alongside Cameron. This was something I greatly enjoyed and believe many others will as well. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the world of professional magic as well as those looking for a fun mystery to get them into the beginnings of autumn.