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Book Review

Author: Jane Richardson
Publisher: Thistle Publishing

In highly readable fashion, Jane Richardson details south Indian culture and customs.

The mixing of two diverse cultures is doubtless a daunting task. Watching it evolve in Richardson's latest book is fascinating as the American girl succumbs gracefully to the orthodox South Indian rituals with her Hindu husband and family. In the same manner, her husband learns about her Christian beliefs; each fully respects the other's religion and heritage. These two college students met, fell in love, and pondered their plight. Through the story the reader learns about the underlying similarities of these two religions-based upon love. Feeling they could shelter their love from torment and obstacles, they likened it to Nobel laurite Rabindra Nath Tagore's Gitanjali: "Steadfast the lamp burns, sheltered from the wind."

After their two wedding ceremonies, the newlyweds unexpectedly move from Cleveland, Ohio (USA) to Hyderabad, India and into a joint family situation. Descriptions of the region, including business and health aspects, are authentically portrayed. The trips to Tirupati and Kancheepurum are detailed and lively-step-by-step, morning 'til night-but moving swiftly. Richardson also accurately describes Calcutta and a visit to the Kali temple during puja. It leaves no doubt that the author has "been there, done that."

"Steadfast the Lamp" would make a great vehicle for Indian parents wanting their teens to learn more of the customs of India, which are sadly becoming lost here in the States. It is a book well worth reading, too, for anyone wanting to revisit their homeland by armchair, as well as a vivid portrayal of a land not yet seen by Indians and others.

Richardson has lived in India, off and on, for three decades. Her first of 25 trips to India was in Jan. '69, a 3 month stay. She has traveled throughout India.  Best of all, she made a point of living with people in all walks of life, broadening her outlook.  The subject matter for this book comes from her personal experiences while she was living in India. For example, she, in fact, has lived in Hyderabad with Indian families that also become the subject matter. She had made the trips to the temples referred to in this book. A family with whom she was staying in Madras had wanted a visit to Tirupati and took her along. She has used that experience to describe the trip and its temple and barbershop visit in STEADFAST. Later she met one of the directors of the temple who gave her four volumes on its creation, upkeep, raising its food, using its wealth for Leper Hospital, a university, etc. etc. 

Another temple mentioned in the book is the temple at Kancheepurum. Kancheepuram is famous for its silk sarees. Jane had been visiting one of the Rajas (kings) who sent her to the temple and the silk merchants, via his car/driver. A priest took her through, talking at length about it. She has used that experience in STEADFAST. The other temple mentioned in the book is the Kali temple in Calcutta. While spending time there an Assamese official took Jane to see the remnants of that puja, also related in the book, plus a swing around the city for its most common sights.

Because of her "connections," Jane had access to research materials, that is not available to ordinary tourists. So, the book gives insights that are not commonly known.

The idea of writing a fiction book instead of a travelogue gives Jane some flexibility in adding her viewpoints to what she has observed and experienced in India. 

In person, Jane is one of the most charming persons I have met. She is very sincere and likable. There is absolutely no question about the research she has done before she wrote this book. This is her sixth book, her fourth on India.

Ravi Gutala wrote, "A very beautifully written story which demonstrates the author's deep understanding of the cultural differences between East and West and how pure love can transcend them. As an Indian settled in the U.S., I could relate to the nuances expressed by the author while dealing with the thought processes of the characters molded by their respective cultures. A very captivating novel written in exquisite detail."

"Steadfast the Lamp" (hardcover, 302 pages, $24.95) is available at major bookstores or directly from the publisher (Thistle Publishing, 11985 Cherokee Circle, Shelby Twp., MI 48315).

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