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Title: Island’s End
Author: Padma Venkatraman
Publisher: G. P. Putnam
May Contain Spoilers
From the acclaimed author of Climbing the Stairs comes a fascinating story set on a remote island untouched by time. Uido is ecstatic about becoming her tribe’s spiritual leader, but her new position brings her older brother’s jealousy and her best friend’s mistrust. And looming above these troubles are the recent visits of strangers from the mainland who have little regard for nature or the spirits, and tempt the tribe members with gifts, making them curious about modern life. When Uido’s little brother falls deathly ill, she must cross the ocean and seek their help. Having now seen so many new things, will Uido have the strength to believe in herself and the old ways? And will her people trust her to lead them to safety when a catastrophic tsunami threatens? Uido must overcome everyone’s doubts, including her own, if she is to keep her people safe and preserve the spirituality that has defined them.
Drawing on firsthand experience from her travels to the Andaman Islands, Padma Venkatraman was inspired to write this story after meeting natives who survived the 2004 tsunami and have been able to preserve their unique way of life. Uido’s transformation from a young girl to tribal leader will touch both your heart and mind.
Wow, this was a wonderful read! I have an intense interest in cultures, and at one time considered majoring in anthropology (with a minor in Egyptology). Alas, I listened to my parents harp at me about the need to support myself, and majored in accounting instead. Not nearly as fun, much more stressful, and I am not all that convinced that the pay is really that much better. Oh, well.
Uido lives on a remote island, and her people are hunters and gatherers. Every day Uido and her friend Natalang comb the forest for food for their families. While Natalang gossips and speculates about the single men of their village, Uido is often troubled by dreams that she’s had during the night. She believes that she has visited the supernatural world, and that the gods are trying to give her a message. When outsiders arrive on their beach after one of her dreams, Uido is determined to find the meaning behind them. When she consults Lah-ame, the village’s spiritual leader, he asks her to become his apprentice. With the changing times, the village needs a woman’s wisdom to lead them. When Uido agrees, she has no idea how much her life will change under Lah-ame’s guidance.
I could not put this book down. I felt an immediate connection with Uido. She is hesitant and reluctant to become Lah-ame’s apprentice when she reflects on how it will affect her relationship with her friends and family. Her brother is instantly jealous, and he quickly attempts to discredit her every chance he gets. Their conflict upsets her, and when Ashu and Natalang begin to show an interest in each other, Uido’s closest friend starts slipping away from her, too.
This character-driven novel is engrossing, and as the new world bangs on the door of Uido’s traditional lifestyle, tensions flare in her village. Many of the younger members of the tribe want to embrace the new, easier ways of the strangers. They want to use matches and motorized boats, but Lah-ame believes that they will lose the essence of their true selves if they abandon the old ways. After a dire illness forces Uido to travel to the land where the strangers came from, she, too, sees the danger they represent. The unity of the village will be lost, she fears, and they will all suffer for it.
Uido is a strong, determined young woman. When faced with adversity and danger, she squares her shoulders and marches forward, meeting every challenge head on. She loves her family, and she loves her people, and she will do anything to ensure their safety. When I finished the book, I believed, with a great deal of conviction, that Uido will lead her people wisely, and she will preserve their way of life.
Review copy provided by publisher