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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Kay Marshall Strom and The Hope of Shridula


KAY MARSHALL STROM is the author of forty-two published books. A 21st century abolitionist, she travels throughout the country and around the world speaking on God’s priorities: acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

by Kay Marshall Strom
Published by Abingdon Press


India, 1946: For forty-eight years, Shridula’s father and his family have toiled as slaves in the fields of the high-caste Varghese family, all because of her grandfather’s small debt. At 54 years old, her father, Ashish—whose name means Blessing—is worn out and aging fast. His one joy is his only child, now twelve years old. He doesn’t even mind that she is a girl.

Shridula was born, her mother insisted on giving her a name that also means Blessing. Ashish gazed at his newborn baby and said, “Perhaps the name will bring you more fortune than it brought me.”

His words proved prophetic in ways Ashish could never have imagined. And when the flames of revolution brought independence to India, they seared change into Shridula’s soul.

Readers, buy your copy of The Hope of Shridula today!


The Truth About Fiction

To Marilyn, I wrote. Blessings! Kay Marshall Strom. I smiled as I handed the signed copy of The Hope of Shridula to the tall woman before me.

“Is it true?” Marilyn asked.

“It’s historical fiction,” I explained.

“But is it true fiction?”

Hmmm. True fiction. By definition, fiction is a product of the author’s imagination. Even so, Marilyn’s question set me to thinking. Just how true should fiction be? Six years ago, on my fifth trip to India, I read John Grisham’s book, The Testament. It tells about just-out-of-rehab attorney Nate who is under orders to locate a young missionary in the jungles of Brazil and inform her that she is the sole heir to a huge fortune. Poor Nate gets more than he bargained for, including malaria. On the way down the river, he cries out in agony that he’s dying. The boat captain tells him to go to the bottom of the boat, lie down, and cover himself up with an old tent. If he’s still alive when they get to the mouth of the river, he will survive.

A week later, in a village in India, I went to bed feeling sort of icky. In the middle of the night, I woke up shaking with chills so bad I cracked a tooth. I stumbled out of bed and fell on my face. Before long, the chills changed to a roaring fever. In my badly addled mind, I reviewed each of Nate’s symptoms and checked them off in my sweat-drenched body. Yep, I had malaria. Get to the bottom of the boat, I told myself. Pull the old tent over you. I struggled back into bed and pulled up the cover. If you’re still alive when you get down the river, you will survive. I was and I did.

How true does fiction need to be? True enough that someone in the throes of malaria will not be led astray.

My Blessings in India trilogy—The Hope of Shridula is book 2—is set in 20th century India. It’s a world strictly controlled by a punishing caste system. Shridula and her family are at the bottom. Untouchables. So low, they must never let their polluted shadows pass across the shadow of anyone high caste. They must sweep away their disgusting footprints, beat a drum to warn of their approach. It’s a harsh world. Still today, many in the dominant high castes have no desire to have the caste system examined too closely. Also, the contrast between Hinduism and Christianity is sharp, and not appreciated in most of India. So how do I paint such a canvas?

Not with one-sided thoughts. Nor with exaggerated words. Certainly not with bad Indians and good Christian Europeans. No, no, that would never do. But I do need to portray it truthfully. My job as a writer is to find that balance.

The Hope of Shridula is set during a pivotal time in Indian history: the country’s fight for independence from Britain, and the horrifically careless partition of Muslim Pakistan from Hindu India. In my search for balance, I interviewed many people, including an old man who took part in the partition. He could tell only so much of his story at a time before sobs overtook him. “So horrible!” he would cry. “I do not want to remember.”

How true does fiction need to be? True enough that history is not distorted. True enough that those who lived it, or who inherited the memories, will not be insulted or angered.

Shridula’s story is fiction. The setting, however, is true. I researched through stacks of books. I talked with Indians and Pakistanis. I went to India and saw the landscape, watched the washer caste washing clothes in the river and a man scrubbing down his elephant. Watched people bathing in that same water and collecting it in jars to drink. Visited the markets and bought mangos and custard apples, and spices from brightly colored displays.

How true is fiction? True enough, and in the right places.

The Hope of Shridula is true fiction.

Reader Question: How much truth do you expect in the fiction you read?

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Thank you, Kay, for sharing with us today.

ENTRY RULES Readers, leave your email address (name [at] domainname [dot] com) along with your answer to the question for your chance to win a free autographed copy of the book featured above. If you do not answer the question, and your email address isn't provided, you will not be entered.

This week, the drawing is open to US/Canada residents only.


Kat said...

Thank you for such an informational post. As for my answer, I expect everything surrounding the character's personal story to be true and verifiable. I love history and love learning new information regarding the setting. I find myself looking things up to learn more after reading the story. If the history is imagined I can no longer trust the author and usually pass up future readings of their work.

I would love to read this story as I'm weak in my knowledge do India and I can tell it will lead my own a long path of delightful research of India's history.

My email address is kaw5931ataoldotcom

Kaystrom said...

Thanks, Kat. Learning about new places and times is the real fun of historical fiction, isn't it? After you read "The Hope of Shriduls," I'd love to hear what you think.

Martha A. said...

If it is historical fiction, I want the history to be true! I find that if it is not, I don't want to read it! martha(at)lclink(dot)com

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

I agree with Kat and Martha. The portrayal of actual history needs to be true, though the experiences of the characters can be imagined. Historical fiction should be accurate in description of clothing, setting, and real events. As much as actual history is involved, that should be written accurately, but beyond that, the story can flow as it will.

What makes good historical fiction fun is learning a bit about actual history while made-up characters operate in and around the actual events or settings.