Cover Image: Blue-Skinned Gods

Blue-Skinned Gods

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Member Reviews

I’ve been putting off writing a review for Blue Skinned Gods because it’s so unique that I fear my words wouldn’t do it justice.

I love books about faith. I’m a deeply spiritual Hindu and enjoy books that explore Hindu (Vedic) characters and what they tell us about faith. This book delves into Vedic stories as it takes us into the world of young Kalki, believed by many in his small village to be an incarnation of Vishnu. The book explores Kalki’s own experiences of himself and his small world of close family and devotees. The exploration of inter generational trauma and the vulnerability in close relationships touched me. The author builds a complex and but believable world in the ashram.  The author took a surface level view of some Vedic concepts, which I didn’t love. But I liked how the author explored some queer themes in Vedic culture. 

Blue Skinned Gods questions the nature of faith. It illustrates  how can the strong pull of faith can be manipulated to control others. As someone who loves cult and scam stories, this book drew me in.

The transition to the rock and roll scene was too abrupt for me. The character development in that section felt rushed and slapped together. Still, this section of the book raised interesting questions about loyalty. All in all, a thought provoking read with some flaws.
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Blue Skinned Gods is a story of deception and manipulation with a religious backdrop. I really wanted to enjoy this one and had been anxiously waiting to read it since earlier this year. It sounded like a diverse read that selves into the potential scans that can come out of religion. Unfortunately, what I read felt uneven to me and I had a hard time understanding the characters motives.

Blue Skinned Gods follows Kalki, a young boy from India, who has been convinced that he is the tenth avatar of the God, Vishu. He is groomed at a young ages to be the healer of the ashram and to lead the community in prayer and celebration. As Kalki begins to come to the age of adulthood, he starts questioning when he is doing and what has been told. Only he doesn’t even know how deep and far the deception runs.

Kalki really begins questioning the things he has been told when a tragedy strikes within the ashram. Prior to this, he has only done what he is told trying to make his parents and community happy. There are also other emotions swirling around with him as he is coming of age. His best friend is a girl and now he starts seeing her in a different light. This creates issues because in the hierarchy of the ashram she is of a lover class and not acceptable as a mate. Related, Kalki is no longer able to play and hang out with his friends as much as he would like. This is a very confusing time for him and he feels like he being pulled in so many different directions.

The world that was built within the ashram was really interesting like I said, there are different class systems and dynamics and expectations. Alot of this was based around the Hindu religion. Admittedly, I’m not as a familiar with the intricacies of the religion so it was interesting for me to read about. The one thing that I did struggle with was the fact that I did not fully feel or understand the motivation of Kalik’s father or the deception of his son and the people of his community. Was it for prestige? Was it for power? What motivated him to do such a thing that ultimately would cause so much pain for so many people?

Blue Skinned Gods is beautifully written but felt like it was missing some important details. It also felt like other details such as partying were too focused on during the second half of the book. I understand that Kalik was trying to find his way but, it overtook the book for me in a manner that I don’t think was expected. I think I just anticipated a different story than what I was given.
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This was so well written. I was engrossed from the first page and it ticked all the boxes of my expectations. I would definitely recommend to others.
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I am a big fan of SJ Sindu after reading her debut. I was drawn to this (even outside of being a previous fan) from the concept alone. This was tender and exploratory and fascinating. I loved the characters and the arc of the story. I cannot wait to do this for book club. I think my patrons will love it and we'd have such a great conversation. The writing was sparse, accessible, and super interestingly set against the depth of the story being told. Sindu has definitely become one of those authors whose stuff I will read no matter what it is.
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At first, this felt like it might be fantasy or sci-fi which I'm not a fan of, but soon, I saw it for the very intriguing and unique story it is. It gives the reader a lot to ponder and question and, just when it seems Kalki has been able to break free, the story takes another direction, giving us even more to consider. It wasn't what I'd expected--in a good way!
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Blue-Skinned Gods is the story of Kalki, a boy (and then young man) both with blue skin and raised as a god by his parents in an isolated ashram in Tamil Nadu. His journey of self-discovery as he grows up is both unique (how many of us were raised as child gods?) and at the same time, so universal in many ways, and I think that's where the book really shines. There is a fair bit of loss and tragedy as Kalki seeks to understand the truth of his own life and grow into his own person, but there's also such tenderness and love, even complicated, in his relationships. I struggled a bit with the ending, which felt abrupt, but overall really enjoyed it.
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Great mythology book, with a different take on gods and goddesses. A child is born, the 10th reincarnation of Vishnu, who has blue skin and is going to travel to New York!
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I greatly enjoyed this book. It was not what I expected when I first started reading it. I truly felt for Kalki in everything he went through. I think the book is being marketed in a very mysterious way that overall works. I don't want to ruin how it plays out, but I will say that I thought Sindu did a spectacular job at placing us in Kalki's ashram and his life as he grows up. I felt for him in all of his relationships and for his own internal struggles. I also loved how Sintu used his outside, grownup perspective at times to let us know where he understood more fully and had grown past some of the things that happened. 

I enjoyed the examination of spirituality and a person's own journey with it. When does blindly accepting harm those around you? When does someone's own views block them from having true connections? I also thought the views on India's caste system were interesting and added layers and depth to this already deep novel. 

The end of the book lost me a little, however, because I almost wanted more of what Kalki went through as an adult and how he grew past his young adult self. I was curious why Sintu decided to end it when she did, and wanted a bit more of his growth past some of this journey, to give context to him as an adult. But overall, stunningly written, incredibly interesting, and well worth the read.
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Published by ‎ Soho Press on November 2, 2021

People engage in spiritual journeys to achieve personal growth. Blue-Skinned Gods tells the story of a man who needed to shed the cloak of spiritualism before he could find himself.

Kalki has blue skin. In an ashram on the outskirts of Tamil Nadu, Kalki’s parents raise him to be a god, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu. Kalki sometimes thinks he sees earlier incarnations, particularly Krishna. During playtime, he reenacts stories from Hindu mythology, always playing the heroic god. As Kalki gets older, he leads meditation and yoga sessions in the ashram. Even as a child, he engages in prayers and rituals that heal visitors. Or, at least, he believes he is healing them.

Despite — or because of — his status as a god, Kalki lacks faith. At some point he comes to realize that gods don’t need faith. Others have faith in their gods, but gods have nothing to prove. Yet Kalki has doubts, even as he passes tests that prove his divinity. S.J. Sindu plants clues that allow the reader to understand that the tests might be rigged, that Kalki’s father is using Kalki to attract believers to their ashram. Kalki is his meal ticket. He jealously protects Kalki from any outside influence that might have a negative impact on the ashram. Unfortunately for Kalki, his father believes that any glimpse of the larger world might divert Kalki from the course that his father has plotted.

Culture and religion are significant forces in the story’s background. Kalki’s family follows Vishnu. Kalki’s controlling father refuses to allow him to read Hindu texts favored by worshippers of Shiva. More important to the plot is India’s caste system. When Kalki falls in love with Roopi, a girl he believes he cured who works as a servant at the ashram, Kalki’s father puts an end to their relationship. Roopi comes from one of the higher castes but she isn’t Brahmin and therefore wouldn’t be a suitable mate for Kalki even if he were a mere mortal. Kalki’s father also forbids a friendship between Kalki and a transvestite whose status as a hijra is honored by Hindu mythology. Sindu illustrates social injustice in India by contrasting the god Kalki is forced to be with gods in his lineage who were less concerned with caste and sexuality.

As Kalki gets a bit older, foreign visitors to the ashram give him insight into the world he has never glimpsed. Kalki reads books that his father has forbidden for fear that literature might open Kalki’s mind to new understandings. One of those visitors exposes Kalki’s father as a hypocrite. A female visitor who might be in love with Kalki’s mother drives a wedge between his parents.

Kalki’s best friend is a cousin named Lakshman. Kalki’s true test comes when Lakshman’s mother is stricken with cancer. Lakshman and Kalki are separated for years after Lakshman moves to America. Their next meeting marks a turning point in the novel.

The last half of the story is driven by Kalki’s identity quest. If Kalki is not a god, perhaps he is a guru. Or maybe he’s a drunk. Or bi. Or a singer. As Kalki tries to understand himself, he knows only that he feels like a fraud who has harmed the people he cares about. It’s not easy being blue.

The story is told in memory. We learn early on that in the present, Kalki is a professor. He tells his students that religion is in a crisis perpetrated by scandal: Catholic priests and Hindu swamis using their positions to sexually abuse children; Middle Eastern honor killings, terrorist acts, and extreme reprisals committed in the name of religion; Buddhist monks inciting genocide in Sri Lanka. Having come to understand that he was not a god but a fraud, it is no surprise that the adult Kalki views much of religion as perpetuating a harmful charade for the benefit of charlatans.

The story at times threatens to become a soap opera, particularly when the controlling nature and unfaithfulness of Kalki’s father drives Kalki’s mother to an extreme response. Sindu's characterization of the father is a bit heavy handed. A scene in which Lakshman explodes at Kalki over a perceived grievance makes little sense, given that Lakshman is just fine with Kalki before and after the explosion The attempt at inclusiveness (including an off-camera gay sex scene) sometimes feels a bit forced. The plot loses some of its appeal after Kalki journeys to America and experiences a whirlwind identity crisis.

Yet the story as a whole is engaging. The lessons it offers about religion and intolerance, truth and fraud, are worthwhile. And Kalki, blue skin notwithstanding, comes across as representative of other young people whose parents have tried to fit them into a life that pleases the parent without regard to the child’s right to find his or her own way of living.

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4 Stars

I am grateful to Soho Press for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review.

I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a very fast and engaging read, with very accessible writing. There are many twists and revelations in the plot of the story which are quite shocking and heartbreaking. The MC is very well realized which makes us connect to him and really feel for him throughout.

This story was emotion-filled and tragic. I think one of the author's strengths here was definitely in our perspective voice. Kalki (our MC) is a young boy when this story opens, and we're immediately thrown into the strange circumstances of his life. Everything we experience through his eyes is tinted with his intense religious upbringing and faith, which makes it easy to accept this scenario. This character is also very isolated by his physical appearance, intense religious background, and location. As he grows up, we explore his few important relationships and see how each person in his life contributes to the man he grows into.

There is A LOT of character growth throughout the story, and the author expands on the setting in concert with our MC's expanding world view seamlessly. We begin in a very sparsely populated and almost claustrophobic setting where Kalki only knows a handful of people and has a limited understanding of the world. As his knowledge grows so does the number of people he is familiar with and so does the space he takes up in the world.

The one issue I had with the story was that I felt that the last part was a bit too stretched out. It felt like there was too much meandering when we were coming to a close, and some characters were doing things that were inauthentic to drive these tangents forward. This was not a big issue though.

I enjoyed this one and I would recommend to fans of cultural stories and coming of age stories as well.
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WOW! This is the first book I read by this author and won't surely be the last as it's brilliant.
A book about discovering who we really are, familiar relationship, the will to believe and growing up.
There're elements of magic realism but there's also a fascinating description of India and its culture.
Great storytelling and character development, a riveting and enthralling plot.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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– New life could not be born without sacrifice – Kalki

I almost gave up on this novel (it starts slow)...but then the narrative twist dropped and I was like hol' on deh, haffi see weh di miss a guh wid dis. Sindu tells of a family on an ashram guiding and raising the tenth and final incarnation of Vishnu, said to herald the end of times and usher in the start of a new world.

As we read further, we start to feel unease as we see how controlling and iron-fisted the father is, how gentle and cowed the mother; the level of complicity reaching out to aunt, uncle and cousin. The threads of deception and slight of hand run deep in this one. When we meet Kalki, weighed down by his approaching tests, he is torn between being an average 10 year old and the reborn god that he is. He plays with and gets into tussles with his cousin, but yearns for what lies beyond his healing sanctuary.

Blue Skinned Gods delves into what appears to be big business across the world, using children born with certain attributes to set up religious strongholds, garnering followers, financial support, and fame across the world, with no regard shown for the damage caused to the child during this period. But it also deals with family and how important the molding that is received, can chart the path one walks; how lies and manipulation can lead to devastating loss, and the fabrication of an identity and life can cause fractures both physical and internal.

The emotional metre for this one swings from anger, exasperation, disgust, sorrow, and a bit of satisfaction. A part of me wanted more of an explosive confrontation, but the severing of the ties that were used to bind our main character will have to suffice.

Sindu uses faith to trace how a family can twist a genetic mutation to serve their purpose. The lengths a father will go to to hold unto the power, prestige, and power that this lie grants him. And as clues start pointing to the elaborate ruse, our main character begins to question all he has known and been told. What really pulls the reader in is not the prose but the character interactions and focus. Through the eyes of Kalki, his father's obsession with securing elevation by being the father of a God avatar is unearthed, his harmful and selfish actions that led to the unraveling of his family, and the hurt he embedded in his son and wife.

For a character driven story that will have you fired up and exasperated, Sindu's Blue-Skinned Gods will do it.
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This story was great! I enjoyed reading this story of a boy with blue skin who was just trying to be the god that everyone told him he was and challenged himself to do as everyone expected him to. The themes of identity and family in this story resonated with me to an extent and I got absorbed into the story and how it was developed, I definitely think people should read this!
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This book is ABSOLUTELY incredible! As a Tamil-American that was raised Hindu, I really resonated with this book. It toyed the line with rightful criticism of Brahmanism while not diminishing the entirety of Hinduism as a religion. I particularly enjoyed the specific references, while I find this book is also easy to follow for those who do not practice the religion! The plot was engaging as well. Overall, I'm really excited to read SJ Sindu's newer works and now I have a newfound favorite author!
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Included in November edition of Novel Encounters, my regular column highlighting the month’s best fiction picks for Zoomer magazine’s Books section.
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This story shows just how easily you can create a world for someone, when in isolation, but how that world can crumble when the outside makes it in. It’s a story of complicity. The amount of people who buy into an abusive situation for whatever reason, who have power to make a difference, but don’t. I feel so much hatred towards some characters and so much sympathy about Kalki’s life. About his situation. On the surface it feels like this nice little world about a god on earth and his life healing people on the ashram he lives at. But beneath that is so much more. Life, loss, love. At times I feel the story jumps too much into random moments of the future, which I didn’t really like - especially because we never reached those moments before the story ended. I much preferred being in the here and now. It felt jarring to suddenly have a paragraph about something many years beyond the end of the story. I had so many emotions reading this book. The first half was a challenge at times. I enjoyed it but it felt a little slower, which probably suits the ashram lifestyle in the story. Later it speeds up, which makes sense given that so much is happening. I didn’t love it, but I do have a fondness for the story. I feel the characters were interesting, though I’d have liked to have known more about some of them. The story was different to my usual reading, it pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and it gave me a glimpse of another life.

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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A bold story delving into faith, racial, sexual, gender and class identities.

At the outskirts of Tamil Nadu, a boy born with blue skin is perceived as God, Vishnu’s tenth and final incarnation. Under his father’s watchful eyes, devotees of various backgrounds visit the ashram to seek healing. Known for his ability to cure people of their misery, Kalki becomes famous but, as time passes, he starts questioning his godliness.

Blue-Skinned Gods brushes over sensitive topics set in contemporary times. I was instantly drawn towards it when I went through the plot. Sindu has beautifully penned Kaliki’s thoughts while being confined in the ashram to swiftly absorbing knowledge of the external world.

The story moves back and forth from his past in Tamil Nadu to present-day New York. It’s rich in culture, beliefs, mythology, complex family and friendships, human identities and everything that we question about ourselves and society.

Truly one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year and would recommend with my whole heart even if you’re not familiar with Indian mythology.

I received an e-copy via @netgalley @soho_press
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4 stars 

Few readers will find commonality with Kalki, the main character, as a result of his physical appearance, but despite his blue skin, he faces many of the same struggles as the average mortal. His is truly a story of classic themes in untraditional packages. 

By looking at his blue skin, it is easy to believe that Kalki authentically is a god's avatar, but it only takes a brief interaction with his family and environment to expect that something sinister lies underneath the memorable surface. As a result of his godlike stature, Kalki draws a great deal of business to the ashram that his parents run, and he primarily supports them all through his renowned healing powers. Kalki's healing abilities, however, lie in stark contrast to the many forms of pain that those around him experience. He - unfortunately - is not even exempt from empirical experience with this very motif. 

There's a rupture that takes place after the first half of the novel that for me marked a real acceleration in the plot, character development, and general uncertainty I felt as both an observer and at times a complicit participant. I really enjoyed the change in pacing and various other circumstances; this made what felt periodically like a slower start wholly worth the read. 

This is not an easy book. The pain these characters experience is visceral in part because of how well drawn they are and also because of the universality of some of their struggles: with family, religious faith, violence, trust, origins, love, sex, and basic understandings of their own identity. Sindu's work here feels very fresh against the backdrop of these well established pathways, and I'll be back for much more from this author.
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“Ayya had always told me that because I’d lived a thousand lifetimes, I had a thousand wisdoms inside me, if only I could learn how to listen.”

“I wanted to eat the book whole to quiet my heartbeat.”
In Tamil Nadu, India, lives a boy with blue skin. Living in an ashram with his parents, Kalki is raised as the tenth human reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Visitors are brought from surrounding neighborhoods, and eventually all over the world, to be healed by Kalki. When he turns ten, Kalki endures the three trials to prove his divinity - while he passes, he can’t help but question his healing powers and godliness.
I became immediately invested in Kalki’s life as he learned what it means to be a god. Kalki’s curiosity of the world as a ten-year-old comes through, and his continued doubt in himself as a god is evident. When he starts reading Western literature, that’s where he really starts to question what makes someone a god, and he ponders what faith really means. There’s a lot to unpack about religious fervor, and blind faith, and what happens when people willingly keep their eyes closed. As Kalki’s eyes are opened, he has to reexamine everything he knows about his life as it was, and decide how and who to be in the new world he discovers. The ending wrapped up a bit too quickly for me - I wanted more closure about how Kalki chose to lead his life after his final confrontation with his father, and whether he ever found Roopa again - I would like to think he did. His relationship with Lakshman was beautiful, a steadying force when he was surrounded by uncertainty. Blue Skinned Gods is an absolutely beautiful story of a boy trying to find his place in the world, and his education in what it means to be a friend, lover, son, and man. 4.75/5⭐️
Thanks to SohoPress and Netgalley for an advanced e-arc of Blue Skinned Gods!
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What interested me about this novel is that it’s not about religion in the usual sense but about the loss of religion and what that might mean for a person and their world. And I appreciated Sindu discussing (in an interview that just aired at Desi Books; link below) how they approached the Hindu mythology aspects of the story as objects of study and cultural artifacts. Myths have always been used universally in all cultures and since ancient times to explain patterns in our lives. And we need patterns to help us make sense and order from confusion and chaos. But, oftentimes, we see desi writers leveraging Hindu mythology in contemporary fiction to point to certain life patterns for their characters with, well, mixed results. That’s not what Sindu has done with this novel, which is, for me, refreshing.

I must add, though, that I wish there had been less "explaining" of Hinduism as a religion and a culture in the book. I appreciate this was for the benefit of western readers or non-Hindu ones who may not know the context. But, perhaps, there was a way to fold that kind of information more seamlessly into the narrative.
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