Karma by Cathy Ostlere

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Book Reviews, Manitoba | 0 comments

KarmaSummary: With one parent who is Sikh and one who is Hindu, Maya (Jiva) is caught in the middle with two names and conflicting beliefs about God and life. As the only Indians living in rural town of Elsinore, Manitoba, the culture isolation hits Maya’s mother the most, leading her into depression and suicide. In response, her father takes Maya back to India, but it’s 1984 and prime minister Indira Gandhi is about to be assassinated, plunging the country into a violent rampage against Sikhs. Maya and her father are separated during the riots, each believing the other is dead, and when Maya witnesses a man being burned alive because he is a Sikh she finds herself unable to speak. Her long journey back to her father is fraught with danger and misunderstandings, but falling in love with her rescuer’s brother, Sandeep, gives Maya a reason to keep going. When Maya and her father do find each other, he is less than thrilled she has fallen in love with a Hindu, except Maya is not the meek girl she was before their trip and is now willing to challenge him on his beliefs.

Number of Pages: 517

Age Range: 15-17

Review: Exploring Indian society during a bit of the same time period as A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Karma by Cathy Ostlere combines historical fiction with romance, resulting in a story that gives teen insight into India’s tumultuous past.

I love the historical aspect and the contrasting worlds for Maya as she goes from Canada to India, feeling like a foreigner in both places. Love helps her feel like she has a place to belong, but her father is determined she should not make the same mistakes he did by marrying outside his religion. What Maya’s father fails to realise though is that Maya is not simply Hindu or Sikh; she is both. And the environment she was raised in will inform her decisions about who she falls in love with.

What I found most intriguing about Ostlere’s tale is that Maya’s upbringing gives her a unique perspective on India’s conflict. Because she is both Sikh and Hindu she is also both aggressor and victim, and her insight into the situation is personal and powerful. Will Maya and Sandeep’s love ultimately overcome all obstacles? I’m not sure, but I know either way Maya is a stronger, more genuine person who is now able to stand up to her father. Though her mother is dead, Maya still seems to have her guidance in her heart and mind.

Karma is written in a free verse poetry format, which gives the story a lighter, romantic and mythical quality. In the end the historical part fades away as the story becomes about romance instead. The transition between Maya’s and Sandeep’s stories was a bit jarring for me, and because of the font choice I thought the last section said Fiva’s Journal instead of Jiva’s. I spent some time wondering who Fiva was until I remembered the same thing happened to me the first time I read Karma as well.

It’s a good pick for female mid teen readers as they will learn but ultimately be captured by the romance.

Memorable Quotes:

“‘And besides, there’s nothing we can do, Jiva.

Perhaps they’ll do better in their next life.’

But I think he means they should have

done better in their last.

Karma.” – Conversation between Maya and her dad from Karma by Cathy Ostlere, page 50

“When she storms off, Barindra takes me aside.

‘Don’t worry, Sandeep. Families aren’t supposed to

be peaceful. Good families are like steel. Stronger

when heated. Then They can withstand anything.’


Well, if this keeps up, the house could go up in

flames while we’re sleeping and none of us would

have a blister.” – Conversation between Barindra and Sandeep from Karma by Cathy Ostlere, page 190

“‘No. I cannot agree. Murder is

never justified. Just as it’s not

right to look the other way

while someone else does it.

God grants us life. It’s our

duty to protect it. For every

living being.’


‘And at what cost, Barindra?’


‘At risk to ourselves, when

necessary, Mina. If not, our

gestures are empty.'” – Conversation between Barindra and Mina from Karma by Cathy Ostlere, page 240

“He gave me a fountain pen too!

No need to press hard

and raise the print through

to the other side.

The slitted nib will draw

words out easily.

Liquid thoughts.

Swelling letters.

A river of ink flowing

black and wet.

Flooding the paper banks.” – Maya from Karma by Cathy Ostlere, pages 351-352

“I kneel down and touch Mata’s

sari to my father’s feet.

I finally understand: ‘To love each

other is also to love the Divine.'” – Maya from Karma by Cathy Ostlere, page 500

“We cannot see how our lives will unfold.

What is destiny and what is accident?

And how can one ever be certain?’ – Maya from Karma by Cathy Ostlere, page 514

Karma by Cathy Ostlere is published by Puffin Canada, (2011).

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