Born with blue skin, Kalki has been told he is a god, the tenth reincarnation of Vishnu. His controlling father runs an ashram in which people come to be blessed and healed by Kalki, but Kalki is not sure of his godliness. As Kalki comes of age, his uncertainty grows, especially in the face of a tragedy which fractures his family and sends his best friend across the world. As an adult, Kalki embarks on a world tour that has him breaking away from his father and experiencing the world and himself in new ways.
This is an interesting book that I feel very middle-of-the-road about. When I picked it up, I thought there would be elements of magical realism in the story, but I was wrong! There were elements I liked, and some that I didn’t, but the novel provided a thoughtful examination of the things we choose to believe.
I was entranced by Kalki’s story in his childhood, as we piece together why Kalki was born with blue skin and if he really is a god or just a normal kid. The story follows Kalki’s perspective, so we see him questioning himself while also feeling assured in the knowledge that he is a god, based solely on what his family tells him. I liked seeing the three tests that Kalki was meant to pass to prove his godliness and puzzling out what actually happened in those tests. I thought the relationships between Kalki and his family were the most fascinating in his childhood, especially his relationship with his father and mother.
I was less impressed by Kalki’s story once he grows up and breaks away from his father, which was disappointing. I felt like I was waiting for this moment throughout the book and when it finally happened, it felt unbelievable and a little one-dimensional. Kalki reconnects with his cousin Lakshman in New York City and instantly falls into Lakshman’s way of life. On the one hand, Kalki has been so sheltered that it makes sense that he does whatever Lakshman does. On the other, he is remarkably unfazed by the drinking, drugs, sex, and partying that now encompasses his world. I thought Kalki fell into this new lifestyle too easily considering his upbringing and I also just didn’t enjoy the narrative at this point. I wanted to see Kalki grow into and stand up for himself, but in the end he just allows his life to be dictated by someone else again.
The plot itself is leisurely paced. There’s not any action, instead focusing on the day-to-day activities of life in the ashram. Likewise, I thought there was little development of the characters beyond Kalki, mainly because the book follows his perspective. Though the other characters in the book have compelling plots, we know little of who they actually are and what their motivations are. I would’ve loved to see more development in the characters, especially for a novel that is decidedly character-driven.
I thought Blue Skinned Gods had an interesting premise but a mixed execution, losing steam towards the end of the novel. It raised some interesting questions, but ultimately was a little slow and undeveloped for me. If you’ve read the book, be sure to let me know your thoughts!
CW: animal abuse, death, death of a parent, illness, drugs, alcohol, abuse, suicide