She of the Mountains
by Vivek Shraya
In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.
Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own.
This is why we are so lonely.
She of the Mountains is a beautifully rendered illustrated novel that weaves a passionate contemporary love story with a retelling of an epic Hindu legend. A gay man of Indian origin learns to embrace his own sexuality, yet he is the most surprised of all when he enters into a relationship with a woman. Interwoven with this story is a re-imagining of Hindu mythology concerning the gods Shiva and Parvati and their elephant-headed son Ganesh. Both narratives explore the complexities of embodiment and the damaging effects that policing gender and sexuality can have on the human heart; together, they honor the concept of the feminine in all its forms.
Vivek Shraya is a multimedia artist, working in the mediums of music, performance, literature, and film. His most recent film, What I LOVE about Being QUEER, has been expanded to include an online project and book with contributions from around the world. He is also author of God Loves Hair.
I chose ‘She of the Mountains’ in audiobook format from my local library. I’ll be completely honest and say that the main reason I picked it up was because it was short! I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently and I thought a quick read might help me get back into it.
So I went into this book having no idea what it was about and I’m glad I did because on blurb alone I probably wouldn’t have given it a try simply because it’s not my usual read.
‘She of the Mountains’ is a unique, lyrical story formed of two narratives, one a reimagination of several Hindu mythological stories, and the other a contemporary coming of age story of a queer man’s journey of his personal identity. I understand that the print format of this book is beautifully illustrated, which I feel slightly disappointed to have missed in my chosen format but I still enjoyed the narration.
I liked this story and devoured it in a few hours. I found both narratives to be moving and poignant at times and I would say that this is definitely a book that makes you think. The author self narrates this audiobook and her words really make you consider the the stigma and judgement surrounding being gay and especially the experience of a queer person of colour.
“Your skin is perfect. Why would anyone want to be another colour? She kissed his cheek. Marvelling at her perfectly round chestnut cheeks, he couldn’t help but agree. Falling in love with her brown had unexpectedly given his own skin new value, a new sheen.”
My only issue with this read was that the two narratives are initially quite difficult to distinguish from each other in the audiobook so it took a little while to work out what was going on. I also think I would have got more out of the story had I been more familiar with Hindu mythology although that’s not a fault of the book. I felt that a good deal of the content went over my head, but it’s given me something to think about and I’m glad I read it nonetheless.
Overall rating: ‘She of the Mountains’ by Vivek Shraya is a unique, lyrical story. I enjoyed it but don’t feel that I was able to get as much out of it as others. I think with a bit of background reading, this is worth a re-read but for now it’s and enjoyable 3 stars from me!