By Padma Venkatraman
Available now from Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House)
Veda is a Bharatanatyam dancer in Chennai who has just won an important competition, one that could maybe convince her parents that she's serious about becoming a professional dancer. A car wreck on the way home destroys her foot, and her leg is amputated below the knee. Veda struggles to recover when she's offered the chance to join a medical trial and get an advanced prosthetic.
I know the barest bit of Bharatanatyam from my lessons on South Indian music. Author Padma Venkatraman allowed me to visualize it, despite my unfamiliarity. She describes the poses and feelings beautifully. As Veda learns to dance again, she comes to a new understanding of the meaning of the dance. The spiritual and religious meaning of Bharatanatyam is explored, as well as what that means for Veda and her own relationship with Shiva.
A TIME TO DANCE is told in verse (a wonderful form for describing dance). However, Venkatraman's long, fluid lines read almost like prose. This is not a book that will trip up a reader unfamiliar with or intimidated by poetry.
Dance is not the sole focus of A TIME TO DANCE. Veda's family is very important to her, particularly her beloved Paati. She struggles to hang out with her friends the same as she did before the accident, and doesn't know how to handle the overtures of friendship from her former dance rival. She crushes on the doctor who gets her into the prosthetic trial and her new beginning dance teacher, who is her age. Then, of course, there is Veda's relationship with her body. She loved its strength, but she feels like she lost her beauty when she lost her old dancing ability.
I highly recommend A TIME TO DANCE. Veda is a compelling heroine who undergoes a complicated personal journey, and Venkatraman's writing is gorgeous. It's also an intriguing glimpse into another culture.
Note: It took me 50 minutes to read A TIME TO DANCE. This review took me 15 minutes to write.