Saturday, June 24, 2017

Understanding and Misunderstanding: Kingfishers Catch Fire


by Rumer Godden

Sophie is adrift in India after her husband, whom she rarely saw, passes away. She decides against all advice to rent a little house and live "simply" up in the mountains, away from most of the English in India. With the mingling of two cultures the inhabitants of which completely misunderstand each other, something is bound to happen.

In multiple ways, this novel questions the role of missionaries and Englishman in India who believe they are there serving the non-English population. Sophie is ill early in the novel and finds healing in the mission hospital.
'God is here,' said the printed text on the wall [of the chapel]. 'Yes,' said Sophie. 'But,' she asked, 'isn't He everywhere? Then why do they make Him little?'
Sophie's treatment of the locals in her little village confuses them. Her attempts to aid and interact with the villagers lead directly and indirectly to confrontation and injuries to her and her family. Interestingly, though she has misunderstood the villagers repeatedly throughout the book, she feels instinctively that the official story is incorrect.
Have you a duty to those who hurt you? Surprisingly the answer seemed to be that you had. If Sophie shrank from that answer that did not take the duty away.
Her belief leads her to investigate events on her own, a risky endeavor.
It was strange for Sophie, who always made the ordinary extraordinary, to be entering on a battle to make the extraordinary ordinary, but a feeling of truth came to her each time she tried. 
My book club had a lively discussion on this book, covering everything from Sophie's personality, her actions, the confluence of cultures, and the English presence in India. I enjoyed reading it, though the heavy foreshadowing worried me from the very beginning. Our book club meeting was one of my favorites.

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