Tears in God’s Own Country tells the story of a 26-year-old Indian musician who dreams of performing at Carnegie Hall. But first, he has to overcome colorism.
Set in the 1960s, the residents of Alumaram Village in the South Indian state of Kerala call him Chenda because of his love for the chenda kettledrum music. Kerala is known as God’s Own Country.
In the evenings, the protagonist enthralls the villagers with his chenda music at the junction near the landmark banyan tree.
Chenda is dark. Black. Hence, he is deemed a low-caste parayan and is shunned by the predominantly brown and light-skinned villagers. The local music groups won’t include him; parents won’t let him marry their daughters; and upper-caste villagers won’t invite him to their homes. However, an elderly Brahmin woman defies the caste system and accommodates him on her back porch.
To obtain an Indian passport and a U.S. visa—the first step toward fulfilling his dream—Chenda needs the support of a public official. So, he urges the manager of an herbal medical store to run for office. But the manager has other plans.
In his ambition to win the election, the manager incites Hindu-Muslim conflicts with an eye on most Hindu votes. Distraught, Chenda confronts the manager. The following day, Chenda is found stabbed to death. The police won’t investigate because the deceased is a parayan.
Suddenly, the villagers realize that no one knows Chenda’s real name, his parents, religion, or caste. The village barber, Big-legged Appu, sets out to find Chenda’s relatives so they can claim the body. His search takes him on different paths in Chenda’s life.
There are two takeaways from this 86,000-word upmarket fiction: “We are children of God. If you don’t believe in creationism, we are children of Mother Nature,” and “The World is an illusion, and life is an illusion.”
With the hopes of impacting not only their situations, but the community’s, the two embark on this political journey, but readers know from the opening pages what the protagonists only suspect: politics can be a deadly business. Rich with insight, feeling, and playful wit, Tears in God's Own Country is a heart-breaking story of unfulfilled dreams, colorism, politics, status, and hard choices, set in a town that had long “celebrated all religious festivals as one people, which made Chenda smile and play the kettledrum every day” but now faces sectarian violence. Anthony shines at memorable characterization and a fast-moving plot. Through Chenda's life and story, a touching exploration of what one person will dare to better his lot and help his village, readers are immersed in local history, politics, and economic standards.
Knowing Chenda’s fate creates suspense, while Anthony still crafts unexpected plot twists and betrayal. Fans of politically charged historical fiction and contemporary works rich in cultural narratives will find this captivating.
Takeaway: Emotionally charged tragedy of Indian politics and village life.
Comparable Titles: Manoranjan Byapari; Annie Zaidi’s Prelude to a Riot.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
NE Ohio author deftly tackles India’s caste system in novel
Marc Bona email@example.com
Cliff Anthony has been in this country almost 40 years, but it was his native India that stayed with him for his novel, “Tears in God’s Own Country.”
Anthony is originally from Kerala in southern India. He has been in the United States since 1986, first spending time in New York City and then moving to Northeast Ohio; his wife is from Garfield Heights. He writes and teaches journalism at Lorain County Community College and lives in Highland Heights.
Anthony spent about seven years working on “Tears.” He reworked the book, which centers around Chenda, a kettledrum-playing sweet soul who is kept down by the color of his skin, a prejudice that stops many people from seeing the goodness in his heart. It is set in the early 1960s.
“I put a lot of emotion in this,” Anthony said.
What Anthony brings to life clearly is India’s caste system, a segregated way of
life, an ugly hierarchy that looms so large and important in the book that it really
should be treated as a separate character.
“Anyone who is dark is stereotyped as low caste,” he said. “They are untouchable. Even now, in some places, in the villages, there are wells where only the upper caste can bring water, and there are wells for low-caste system — what we had here 50 years ago.”
He also brings the Hindu-Muslim conflict, one fueled by whichever political party is in charge, into the forefront, a battle “between false promises and make-believe worlds.” When elections near, political power is supported artificially by
paid volunteers, where any threat to one’s stronghold can erupt with a “sudden volley of yelling like thunder and lightning before an onslaught of a monsoon.”
It’s an atmosphere of xenophobia, one similar to but much more entrenched than what can be found in the United States.
“You come to boiling part — we have to do something; we cannot hold back. Otherwise you scream at somebody,” he said. That boiling point in the book is fueled by a political struggle based on an innocuous incident involving a tennis ball that threatens every person in the fictional Alumaram Village.
The more the conflict roils, the more Anthony deftly weaves sadness
as a theme throughout the pages.
But Chenda’s empathy and gentleness counter the ugliness around him: “He sat on the steps, looked at the stars, and felt sorry for them. The sun and the
moon can escape from east to west, but the stars don’t. They had to sit in the same spot in the sky night after night and watch people
kill each other.”
In fact, the book’s final pages fast-forward 50 years for a brief epilogue, and we see the past wrapped in the trappings of the present.
“Things have not changed. We have computers and bankrolled a kind of Silicon
Valley and we have technology, but still the mindset is the same,” Anthony said.
The book’s conflict theme is almost entirely man vs. man. Because the area
and time period have such a patriarchal structure, the book is almost entirely
devoid of romance.
“Tears” is Anthony’s second novel; his first was “Page-A1,” a 2012 novel about a newspaper’s struggles. He is planning to write another book — a quasi-mystery — and will again feature the caste system though his Alumaram Village will not figure into it.
The only criticism of the book lies in its omission of a glossary. Definitions
for types of drinks, different articles of clothing, food and other items - could
have helped. But Anthony writes in a way that the connotation is there, so a lack of explainers does not mar the enjoyment of his writing or the message he imparts.
“We are all God’s children,” he said. “Whether we are Black, white, brown,
Muslim, Hindu, Jewish - we are all God’s children. If you don’t believe in creationism, then we are children of nature.”
More info: To buy Anthony’s book or to contact the author, click on his homepage at http://page-a1.com/.
ELYRIA — As a journalist, one reports what is observed and what is spoken.
As a novelist, one weaves a story, created from imagination.
As both, Cliff Anthony, a journalism professor at Lorain County Community College and adviser of The Collegian, tells the tale of a fictional character in a very real conflict of colorism, political deception and religious fanaticism in his new novel, "Tears in God’s Own Country."
Set in the 1960s in a fictional village in the South Indian state of Kerala, "Tears in God’s Own Country" focuses on Chenda, a musician who dreams of performing at Carnegie Hall one day. Beloved for his music in his small village, Chenda is still ostracized by the villagers because of his dark skin and is considered an "untouchable."
To get an Indian passport and a U.S. visa to make his musical dreams come true, Chenda devises a plan to get the local medical store manager to run for political office, but the manager has an agenda of his own, which sets off a religious war in the small village.
Anthony, who grew up in India before moving to the U.S. in 1986, saw firsthand the effects of colorism in India in the 1950s and 1960s and said it has not changed.
“Colorism, racism, black and white, it’s not just in India,” he said. “It’s all over the place. Look at what happened here recently with George Floyd. It is an issue all over. In India, there are three colors: white, which is fair; brown, which is medium, that is me; and black, which is dark. If you are black, you are immediately low caste. People won’t even let you inside of the house.”
Before coming to the United States, Anthony worked in newspapers in India and the Middle East. He earned his master’s degree in journalism from Kent State University, then went to work as an assistant professor at Cleveland State University. He made the move to LCCC in 2008.
He wrote his first novel, "Page-A1," about a reporter struggling to remain objective as management shortchanges the newsroom, in 2013.
His decision to write novels stemmed from his desire to effect change.
“As a journalist, you have one day, maybe two days of impact,” Anthony said. “You have to add more information to have a longer impact. You can do that with a novel.”
While "Tears in God’s Own Country" may tackle serious issues, it has a lot of heart and a lot of humor, from a tennis ball sparking a religious riot between the local Hindus and Muslims to a missing cow doing the same and other antidotes weaved throughout.
“The gist of the story is that we are all one,” Anthony said. “We are all God’s children. For those who don’t believe in God, we are children of nature. The motif is universal.”
Anthony, who lives with his wife, Mary, in Highland Heights, said Chenda sums it up best.
“When he saw what the politicians were doing, he got drunk and when he drinks, he sings,” Anthony said. “He sings that the world is an illusion and life is an illusion. All of these things we talk about — color, political deception, greed — they are all illusory. It doesn’t mean anything at all.”
"Tears in God’s Own Country" is available at area independent bookstores, Amazon and Kindle, and national bookstore chains upon request.
Contact Christina Jolliffe at firstname.lastname@example.org.