Song of Kali

Song of Kali - Dan Simmons, Jill Bauman For my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.

Set in bustling 1977 Calcutta, Song of Kali is the story of a sentimental American poet who travels with Indian wife Amrita and newborn child Victoria on a commission to locate a manuscript. Evidently the celebrated Calcuttan poet M. Das has resurfaced eight years after having disappeared without a trace, and has produced a new poetic saga about the goddess Kali.

It's difficult to discuss Song of Kali thoroughly without spoiling it, so I will touch upon some of the more impressive aspects of the novel without over-elaborating. The novel pits the notion that violence equates power against the abstract sentimental view that amid all crises there exists an element of hope. Simmons sets this battle amid the chaos of Calcutta, where idealistic poet Robert Luzcak struggles against the reality of ever present and pervading violence. Far from his serene and rural Massachusetts, he quickly rejects the world of Calcutta, wandering its streets and listening to its tales with disbelief. Yet Calcutta, like the goddess Kali that the city is named after, manages nonetheless to be seductive, and his return home is continually delayed as he becomes enmeshed in a conspiratorial plot involving a missing poet and the mysterious Cult of Kali. Luzcak's ideology of hope is particularly challenged when his infant daughter is endangered.

The novel succeeds not because it is a good story (which it most certainly is), or because it is well written (which it most certainly is) but because the story is well fused with Simmons's ideas. Though the struggle between the ideology of hope and the notion that violence equates power is not subtle, it doesn't need to be, allowing the reader to grasp the point quickly and focus on the plot, the disturbing sequences and the wonder that is Calcutta (and India in general). The novel weaves through Calcutta as it weaves through plot, constantly shifting and hence never growing dull. A hunt for a manuscript encompasses tales of body snatching, kidnappings and cult practices