About this book
In this layered narrative, the political and the personal are interwoven when Kiri’s beloved brother, Rajiv, runs away to join an extremist group fighting for fair pay and justice, and is caught up in the escalating violence. Against this volatile backdrop, Kiri yearns for an education as the only way to escape a life of subjugation defined by her gender. Can she find the courage to follow a lonely, challenging path to freedom?
About the author
Hema Macherla was born in India and now lives in London. She has published twenty-five short stories and many articles in Indian magazines. Her debut novel, Breeze from the River Manjeera, was published to wide acclaim. It was short-listed for Richard & Judy, won the Big Red Read, 2009, and was translated into French in 2012. Hema received a National Reading Hero award in 2008. Her second novel, Blue Eyes, set in India in the 1920s is both epic and intimate as child-bride Anjali escapes the funeral pyre and makes a bid for freedom with the support of her childhood friend, Saleem.
Sometimes it is worth stepping back into the not so distant past to ask if and how we have moved on. Set in the 70s in a small village in India, Letters in the Sand boldly addresses important societal problems about female education and emancipation.
This is the story of a young girl called Kiri and her extremely orthodox family, so orthodox that they believe girls should not be educated, while the education of their boys is of paramount importance. Kiri’s wealthy, tyrannical father, his mother and sister believe that Kiri’s worth lies in being married by the age of fifteen. Her mother is the saving grace in the young Kiri’s life by leading her into the world of letters yet this world must be kept a secret because her mother is powerless within the dominating family.
Hema Macherla deftly creates a rural setting, rigid in its belief system and traditions, and cruel not only to its women, but also to men who want to bring about change. The Indira Gandhi government, the national emergency, the drive of forced contraception to curb India’s population, the rise of the Naxalite movement and female infanticide are all seen through Kiri’s innocent and searching eyes. And it is impossible not to be caught up very quickly in her world where she is reminded always that being born a girl is not a blessing.
There is hope in the attitudes of the younger people – Kiri’s brothers, cousins, a young teacher – and like Kiri, we cling to the possibility that the darkness may end and a new dawn will be born.
Letters in the Sand doesn’t hesitate in holding a mirror to some shocking traditions in India. The seventies were not that long ago, and at the end of the book, I could not help but ask if all of this was in the past or whether it still happens today? In some communities? In some villages? Even if it is 2021?
Evocative, fast-paced with relatable characters, Letters in the Sand is a story that both touches us and makes us think. It’s a bold page turner that carries a social message and a call for change. – Mona Dash, author of A Roll of the Dice and Let Us Look Elsewhere