“Curiouser and curiouser,” I found myself proclaim as I travelled through Kate James’ second book When Gods Collide. Like Alice wondering why she had suddenly grown so tall, I started each chapter wondering where this book would take me.
At first glance Kate’s memoir feels like it is going to be about religion and faith, and her lack of it, as she travels back to India where she spent part of her childhood. If the title When Gods Collide was anything to go by I knew what I was about to get into, but I was only partly right (never judge a book by its cover rang true). I was captivated at how I could go from being in an overnight train journey, to a temple and its “miracle” water, to a leprosy colony and not really be sure how I even ended up there.
Kate travels along the Coromandel Coast of India, reminiscing along the way about her growing up as a child among Australian missionaries and combines this past with her present as she navigates the multifaceted country. The only narrative arc that I was conscious of, and I am certainly not saying this is a negative, was Kate’s need to get answers to a gruesome murder of three Australians that had obviously touched her more than one might have thought. It is this journey for answers, of the burning alive of missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, that kept me captivated and wanting Kate to get the answers that she (and now I) so desperately coveted.
Even though Kate is an atheist her book is a little preachy and for a travel writer (Lonely Planet) I found her to be quite naive in her assessments of people and culture at times. Having said that though, the fact that Kate is willing to be so candid does make for interesting reading.
When Gods Collide is many stories in one. There is enough there to keep any reader interested, with elements of travel, memoir, history, politics and mystery. My recommendation would be to just give it a moment and don’t worry about narrative and structure along the way. You will find your way in the end. Just trust, like Alice did when she saw the sign READ ME…sorry EAT ME.
If you like Paula Gleeson’s writing or think she is semi-okay then check out her blog at: http://paulagleeson.blogspot.com/