Book review

Review time: Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar

Every parent should make their little ones read books like Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar. This is one such children’s book with comes with a strong message and it is fiercely feminist. A take on colonialism through middle-grade which everyone needs right now!

Book Name: Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame
Author: Supriya Kelkar
Publisher: Scholastic India
Page Count: 314
Book Link: Amazon

Synopsis on Goodreads:

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In 1857 India, 12-year-old Meera escapes a life she has no say in–and certain death on her husband’s funeral pyre–only to end up a servant to a British general in the East India Company. When a rebellion against British colonizers spreads, she must choose between relative safety in a British household or standing up for herself and her people.
India, 1857

Meera’s future has been planned for her for as long as she can remember. As a child, her parents married her to a boy from a neighboring village whom she barely knows. Later, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, she prepares to leave her family to live with her husband’s–just as her strict religion dictates. But that night, Indian soldiers mutiny against their British commanders and destroy the British ammunition depot, burning down parts of Delhi. Riots follow, and Meera’s husband is killed. Upon hearing the news, Meera’s father insists that she follow the dictates of their fringe religious sect: She must end her life by throwing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Risking everything, Meera runs away, escaping into the chaos of the rebellion. But her newfound freedom is short-lived, as she is forced to become a servant in the house of a high-ranking British East India Company captain. Slowly through her work, she gains confidence, new friends, new skills–and sometimes her life even feels peaceful. But one day, Meera stumbles upon the captain’s secret stock of ammunition, destined to be used by the British to continue colonizing India and control its citizens.

Will Meera do her part to take down the British colonists and alert the rebellion of the stockpile? Or will she stay safe and let others make decisions for her? It really comes down to this: how much fire must a girl face to finally write her own destiny?

My Views:

Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame is set at the time of the British Raj in India in 1857. It follows the story of a 12-year-old girl Meera about to turn 13 and that was also supposed to be her wedding day. Little did Meera know, that her worst nightmare, i.e., her wedding day would turn out to be her key to freedom from a life that she never wanted for herself. She always believed to be a dutiful daughter and a faithful wife to-be-her future husband, but if things are done forcefully then they can never be performed well. But when her husband-to-be, dies, her family expects her to perform Sati – in which she’s to burn on her husband’s funeral pyre. But little Meera doesn’t want to end her life for obvious reasons.

Finally, she runs away making her way to a new town where she starts working for the East India Company. She plans to earn a good amount and then have her place with all the freedom. But when secret alliances start brewing plans and rebel against the East India Company, then what will Meera choose, will she still prefer her freedom or defying all odds would stand up against the British Raj and save her motherland?

I think Kelkar did a great job in bringing us the story of India under colonization, people struggling for freedom through the eyes of a young woman, Meera. She is fierce, strong, bold, and knows exactly what she wants. She is trying to save her life, wants to be free, and live her life on her terms. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and here blending fiction with reality and what actually happened in India by taking instances from real-life incidents lifted the book on another level. For example, the cartridge incident, sepoy mutiny, the prevalence of Sati, and also the rebellion by Jhansi ki Rani. Meera’s portrayal has been done with great credibility and I thoroughly enjoyed Kelkar’s writing style.

The book talks about racism, sexism, and the struggles and brutality faced by Indians by the East India Company. The detailing of everyday life, socio-political India during the 1850s is very well presented and I think writing on such a critical topic like racism and British rule in India by navigating the story through a 13-year-old is admirable. It is a well-researched book and one can make that out from Kelkar’s narration and writing. This is a must-read book for everyone and even if you are not a fan of middle-grade books, I’m sure after reading this title, you will be one!

Rating:

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