Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu (they/them)
Kalki Sami, born with blue skin, has been raised as a child god, the tenth human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Following his tenth birthday, he must complete three trials to demonstrate his power and prove his divine status. But Kalki unexpectedly struggles with the trials and discovers some things that make him question his divinity. Over the next ten years, everything Kalki knows - his family, his identity, his place at the ashram where he grew up - begins falling apart. Who is Kalki if he is not a god?
Author Sindu uses the child god protagonist’s journey to probe the space between faith and doubt, what we choose to believe or are forced to believe. Early in the story, Sindu explores this subtly, creating a tension within the reader as they wonder whether Kalki is the real deal, even before Kalki himself begins doubting. It really throws the reader off balance, and it’s one of the most successful parts of the book. Towards the end, this tension fully manifests in Kalki and his relationship with the people and world around him. It’s profound because questioning his faith means questioning everything he’s ever known, including himself. Complicated and thought-provoking ideas are contrasted with straightforward writing, reflecting Kalki’s childlike, sheltered perspective, which expands in accordance with his doubt. BSG is divided into four books, each named for someone who Kalki loses throughout his life in some way; it is no surprise, then, that the final book is titled “Kalki.” Readers should note that this is not a traditional mythology retelling - there’s not an inkling of godly magic in sight. In truth, this is a Bildungsroman of a child god, exploring Kalki’s gender, sexual, and cultural identities.
Sindu seems to assume their main audience will be Westerners with interspersed “lessons” on the Tamil language and Hindu practices. As a white Western woman myself, I found them an enjoyable addition to my understanding of Kalki’s experiences, but readers who are more familiar with the cultural context may find them didactic. The book ends rather abruptly, and I think that a few extra pages - maybe a short epilogue? - connecting the story to Kalki’s present day life as we’re introduced to it early in the book would’ve wrapped things up nicely. Overall, this is an incredible book that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Goes well with:
I’ve read nothing quite like BSG, but Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy is a decent read-alike for readers who enjoyed the ashram setting and the questionable things that went on there. They’re both quiet, thoughtful books, though very different stylistically.