Monday, September 12, 2011


Karma by Cathy Ostlere is the featured book in two student assignments. Teri Lybecker created a digital trailer and Jessamy Sorelle developed a readers' guide. Both of these resources are featured below. Enjoy!

Here is Teri's trailer for Karma.

And here is Jessamy's readers' guide.

Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma: a novel in verse. New York: Razorbill. ISBN 9781595143389

Recommended age level:
14 and up (Young Adult)

15-year-old Jiva, also known as Maya, is the Canadian born daughter of a Sikh father and a Hindu mother. After her mother’s suicide, Maya and her father return to India with her mother’s ashes. Maya writes about her experiences in her new diary. Shortly after their arrival in India, on October 31, 1984, Indira Ghandi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the desecration of the Golden Temple. The city of New Delhi, where Maya and her father are staying, erupts into violence as Hindus massacre Sikhs in retaliation for the prime minister’s death. In the chaos that follows, Maya is separated from her father and escapes on a train bound for Jodhpur. Maya becomes mute after witnessing a Sikh man pulled from the train and burned alive.

Maya is sent to Jaisalmer by a doctor who hopes her younger brother, Sandeep, can help her find her voice. The story continues in entries from Sandeep’s journal as he tries to protect Maya from the vicious rumors that result from having an unmarried woman staying with his family. As weeks go by, and Maya remains mute, Sandeep’s family has no choice but to send Maya away to live with desert nomads. Sandeep and his father accompany Maya on the journey across the sands, on her way to becoming the unwilling bride of their guide, Akbar. When Maya realizes what is going to happen she runs away, right into a sand storm. Maya finds her way back to Sandeep, and finds her voice.

Maya resumes the story, writing in a new journal, as she and Sandeep return to New Delhi to search for her father. Sandeep eventually finds Maya’s father, but he is a changed man who burns with hatred of Hindu people. Maya’s father forbids Maya from having any contact with Sandeep, a Hindu. It is up to Maya to remind her father that the wife he loved was Hindu, and his daughter is half-Hindu, if she is to have a chance of seeing Sandeep again before she returns to Canada.

Review Excerpts / Awards
Nominated for YALSA’s 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults
• The novel's pace and tension will compel readers to read at a gallop, but then stop again and again to turn a finely crafted phrase, whether to appreciate the richness of the language and imagery or to reconsider the layers beneath a thought. This is a book in which readers will consider the roots and realities of destiny and chance. Karma is a spectacular, sophisticated tale that will stick with readers long after they're done considering its last lines. (School Library Journal)

• In her YA debut, acclaimed adult author Ostlere offers a riveting, historically accurate coming-of-age tale of gutsy survival, self-sacrifice, and love...With artful compassion, Ostlere reveals the infinitely complex clash of cultures within both India and Maya’s family, and although the allusions to karma could have seemed awkward in less talented hands, here they lead into well-framed larger questions that will stay with readers. A fascinating, epic page-turner. (Booklist - Starred Review)

• In her first YA novel, Ostlere (Love: A Memoir) makes Maya's subsequent muteness believable in the wake of the many traumas she endures. Burdened with guilt over her parents' fate, as well as that of a Sikh man burned alive in front of her, she asks, "Is my silence unfounded too?/No. I do not deserve to be found./Or loved." A family in a desert town takes Maya in, and 17-year-old Sandeep (who contributes kinetic, love-struck journal entries) takes special interest in her. In contrast to the hatred, mistrust, and violence, the friendship--and then love--between Maya and Sandeep offers hope, rebirth', and renewal. (Publishers Weekly)

Questions to ask before reading
• What is karma? How does the concept of karma relate to concepts of vengeance or atonement?
• What are the differences between the Sikh and Hindu religions? What is the political history of the people of these faiths in India?
• What is a caste system? How is the caste system used in India?

Suggestions for reading aloud

Karma is a novel written in free verse that incorporates the voices of many characters. As such, Karma is particularly suited for Readers Theater using groups, or reading aloud as duet or monologue.

The Golden Temple (p. 94)
Duet by two narrators:
N1: Bapu says her death
is due to architecture.
Because a four-hundred-year-old
temple was desecrated.
N2: Because of the wind that
came through the cracks
in an old prairie house.
N1: Because its doors were entered
(East. West. North. South.)
without respect.
N2: Because the back door
never closed properly.
N1: Because the gold was tarnished
with blood.
N2: Because the kitchen was
always cold. And empty.
N1: Because of hate. Prejudice.
N2: Because of love.
N1: Because the extremists used the
temple for a sanctuary of violence.
N2: Because it wasn’t home.
N1: Architecture inspires and kills.

Mirage (p. 149)
Readers Theater for 3-5 people. Two narrators and a chorus of 1-3 people.
N1: They come across the yellow fields
running with dark faces and teeth bared
through ribbons of heated air
a mirage of false water.
The train slows as if waiting for them to catch up.
C: What’s happening?
Why are we stopping here?
Is it wolves?
N1: But they are not wolves
N2: We should have prayed for wolves
N1: But men instead
four-limbed and angry
carrying iron rods and knives
hands gripping gasoline cans
voices shouting into the hot dry air
their fury stirring the dust like a wind.
N2: We should have prayed for wolves
N1: They slam their bodies against the slowing
train. They cling to the window bars. They
climb to the roof and throw people into the air.
A voice demands we unlock the door of our carriage.
C: Open or be burned!
N1: I tell myself I’m still sleeping:
the unwound turban meting out
a gang of men severing the body of the
prime minister
the pounding of their fists
on this train
on this car
are only hammering
the metal walls of my head.
C: Open or be burned!
We must save ourselves!
N1: But it is no dream
my hands and arms know
my nostrils know
even my lungs and
my shallow breaths
what my heart cannot fathom
what’s going to happen next
because in dreams you cannot close
your eyes and mine are shut tight.
C: We must save ourselves!
N1: The door opens.
Oh my God. Who unlocked the door?

We are Sikh (p. 473)

Readers Theater for 3 people. Narrator, Maya, and Bapu.
N: The arguments are loudest in the morning.
We are refreshed. Ready to do battle again.
B: Khalistan will become a reality,
Jiva. God has seen our suffering
and will help us.
M: You said that would
never happen.
B: It will now. Sikh soldiers will
gather and be as one. So now is
the time for you to renounce your
Hindu blood.
M: That’s crazy, Bapu.
B: I am not crazy!
M: Well, your thinking is! One can’t wipe
away one’s heritage with the sweep of
a hand. You wouldn’t accept that for
yourself. You kept your hair long in
Canada. You wore the turban. So
you wouldn’t disappear.
B: Your blood, Jiva, is the blood of
murderers. And since I am your
only parent, I will now say what
you are!
M: Or what? You’ll bring out
your big knife?
B: Do not make me angrier!
M: There’s more? Besides my heart,
and the memory of my mother’s love,
what else will you burn with your hatred?
B: Any Hindu that comes near you.
M: Is that what you told Sandeep? Is that
why he left and hasn’t come back?
B: I told him the truth, Jiva.
M: You threatened his life! Unwilling to
see his kindness and sacrifice as
separate from his family’s religion!
B: Jiva, I am grateful to God for bringing
the boy to us. I recognize that through
his actions, he has paid a penance
for the crimes of his people. But he is
still a Hindu and cannot be in control
of his emotions.
M: So, no Hindu can ever be trusted again?
Even those who helped the Sikhs during
the riots? Putting themselves in danger?
B: No.
M: What about your oldest friend, Kiran.
B: There can be no exceptions.
M: And me, of course.
B: You must be cleansed of your nature, Jiva.
But you are still a child. There is time.
M: I used to be a child. When I lived in
Elsinore. But now I am an old,
old woman. I have seen things no child
should see. I have seen adults make
a hell of this world.

Longing (p. 517)
I close my eyes and imagine he’s with me. Holding
my face in slender hands. Lips soft and dark - a
cinnamon bloom. A poet’s words fall from his
mouth into mine: I desire my beloved only / And
there is no other wish in my heart. I touch the
memory of his arm. From wrist to shoulder.
Coffee skin. Thin and close to the bone.
My lover’s name is Miraj.
We find each other in the darkness. Our longing is
our guide out of innocence. Tongues too. We are
awkward but tender in our shyness. Do we
hesitate? Hold back? Perhaps only to take a
breath. For our desire is like a sea. Wave upon
wave. Until our souls lay bare and exposed upon a
far-off shore and our grief is eased.
The young are told to wait for emotions to catch
up to the flesh but what if the moment is now?
Our yearnings ready to set us free from sorrow
and fear?
And besides, who will show the world the
possibility of love, if it isn’t us?

Follow up activities


• Have teens write journal entries about events in their own lives in free verse.
Social Studies:
• Research the history that lead to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. What happened after? What is happening today?
• Research the caste system in India. How did it originate? What does it look like today?
• Research the history and symbolism of the sari. What does the color of a sari signify? The drape? The fabric?
• Compare and contrast the Sikh and Hindu religions.

Related websites / blogs
Cathy Ostlere’s website provides information about her inspiration for writing Karma. She talks about her travels through India as a young woman.
This website provides an annotated list of novels in verse by recommended age level. If you’re looking for more novels in verse, this is an excellent starting point.
A database of reviews of books by and about South Asians. A good way to find more fiction about Indian characters.

Related Books and Film
Young adult fiction set in India:
• McCormick, Patricia. 2006. Sold. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 9780786851713
13-year old Lakshmi is sold into prostitution in a brothel in Calcutta.

A fictional film about the legacy of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots:
• Bose, Shonali (director). 2005. Amu. Jonai Productions.
A young Indian American woman returns to India and discovers secrets that tie her to the massacre of Sikhs 20 years earlier.

Juvenile Nonfiction about Sikh and Hindu religions:
• Meredith, Susan. 2010. The Usborne encyclopedia of world religions. London: Usborne. ISBN 9781409510116
• Mann, Gurinder Singh. 2002. Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America (Religion in American life). New York: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195124422
• Hyde, Margaret O. 2008. World religions 101: An overview for teens. Connecticut: Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN 9780822575184
• Singh, Nikky-Guninder Kaur. 2006. Sikhism (World religions). New York: Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 9781604131147
• Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. 2009. Hinduism (World religions). New York: Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 9781604131086

Adult Nonfiction about saris:
• Katiyar, Vijai Singh. 2009. Indian saris: traditions - perspectives - design. New Delhi, India: Wisdom Tree. ISBN 9788183281225

Used with permission of Teri Lybecker and Jessamy Sorelle.


laurasalas said...

Off to put this one on reserve at the library. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered this posting about Karma and I am so pleased! The trailer video is excellent as well as the reader's guide. I couldn't be more delighted to see how the story of Maya and Sandeep has stirred such interest.
All my best,
Cathy Ostlere