Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu is one of the most underrated books I’ve read this year. I picked it up only because THE Roxane Gay highly rated it, and it’s one of the best books of 2021 for me. The book blurb doesn’t do it justice. A poignant journey of emotions and relationships makes this a must-read book.
Born in Sri Lanka and now living in Canada, SJ Sindu is part of the Tamil diaspora. I had not heard of her earlier book, which was well received too. I’ll be sure to look it up soon. Her storyline is original, and the writing style is captivating. She explores the topic of sexual identities, especially in the South Asian context, in a beautiful way.
“The world itself, all of reality, was an illusion that kept us from searching for our greater purpose.”
In Blue-Skinned Gods, we follow the journey of a boy named Kalki. The story is set in a small, remote village in Tamil Nadu, India. Kalki has blue skin and is believed by the villagers to be the reincarnation of the God Vishnu. He has been groomed by his family from the very beginning to believe in his divinity. As he grows up, he starts to notice some chinks in the armour. We get an insider’s look into his feelings and how his life events create turmoil in his belief system.
His relationship with his father, mother, cousin, Rupa, and himself go through various stages of love, doubt, anger, sadness, and regret. You feel for the child in him that wants to play and frolic but is forced to stay in his bubble. Even as a young adult, entering the world on his own for the first time, there’s so much he needs to learn and re-learn.
The story spans over a decade narrating how Kalki grows and explores new ideas and identities. He ponders over topics such as gender, sexuality, religion, and caste as mentioned in holy scriptures versus his own thoughts versus what he’s been trained to think about them.
I did not know what I was expecting from the book, but it took me on a beautiful journey of relationships and self-discovery. Lost love, heartbreaks, and a young boy’s passage to adulthood are central to the story.
Although this particular situation of a child-God might seem far-fetched, the family dynamics seemed familiar. It could’ve been any home or family with an authoritarian figure who rules supreme and where no one else has a say in even their own lives.
I found myself agreeing with Kalki and his coming to terms with the realities of religion—for some, it can hold purpose and hope, or for others, it can ultimately end and fail them. I connected with many Kalki’s own views as they developed through the story, especially on his views on faith. He realises that some people will believe anything no matter how much evidence you give them against it.
“To me, divinity had been as real as flowers, or the sun, or my own skin.”
The story is rich in detail, and the characters develop and mature through the storyline. The story’s canvas is large, encompassing many thoughts and how they change as their worldview expands.
The writing is easy to read and drags you into the life and mind of the protagonist. You feel what he feels when he talks about his loneliness, his passions, or about his mother. Sindu’s cultural knowledge and careful character-building make each turn of the story believable without being predictable.
I listened to the Audible version of this book, which was very well narrated by Varun Sathi.
Verdict: Must Read
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