Official Review: Elastic Girl by Olivia Rana

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Official Review: Elastic Girl by Olivia Rana

Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 03 Jan 2018, 08:15

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Elastic Girl" by Olivia Rana.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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In a circus stunt I saw last summer, motorbikes crisscrossed around a spherical cage. One of the riders was a 13-year-old boy – presumably a member of a circus family and working in line with labour laws. How do circuses find their child stars in some parts of the world?

Elastic Girl by Olivia Rana is a fictionalized account of the lives of circus performers in India. Its themes include the effects of poverty, victimization, family scapegoating, and the oppression of women and girls. It takes place in a world where there are opportunities to be found; some can rise from nothing to fame and fortune.

The main protagonist is Muthu, the third girl born to a family hoping for the miracle of a boy. She finds herself treated very differently from her older sisters, working as a street vendor while they attend school. Playful and spirited, she has fun with her friend Maheesh. When she escapes drowning thanks to her ability to fold her body into confined spaces, a neighbour dubs her Elastic Girl. When she entertains a queue with her contortions, she expresses reservations about taking money from those who have little. Maheesh, however, says: ‘People will pay their last rupee for happiness.’

Gaining pay from entertainment becomes critical when the family falls on such hard times that Muthu’s father sells her to the circus. Ringmaster Mr. Prem claims that he cares for the circus children as if they were his own, but there’s something creepy about him. Muthu is taken under the wing of trapeze artist Gloria and trainer Mr. Kalpak. She is dismayed to learn that she cannot perform her Elastic Girl routine right away, but must start by dressing as a chimpanzee’s baby. Will hard training be rewarded with stardom, or will Mr. Prem demand a more unsavoury price?

One of my favourite aspects of this book was the handling of the complexity of the characters’ motivations. Many of the performers have been unceremoniously dumped on the circus by their families. While Muthu’s grandmother has told her that she is cursed and always does the wrong thing, her parents do care about her. They are in a desperate situation when her father takes her to the circus auditions, where acceptance by Mr. Prem seems to be a privilege. His reverence for glamour and stardom appears genuine. Although Muthu’s father seems naïve as he signs the contract, it later becomes apparent that there is more to the arrangement than meets the eye.

The book is superbly written. The tale unfolds now amidst heat and dust, now in monsoon downpours. We see the immaculate grounds of a palace and the brothels of Mumbai. We ride through streets packed with rickshaws and sacred cows. Though evocative and rich in detail, the style is never long-winded.

A third excellent aspect was the development of Muthu’s character. At first, she slots into her scapegoat role, blaming herself for everything that goes wrong. The devout Mr. Kalpak advises her that only unpleasant experiences teach us real patience and tolerance. He tells her that strengthening her mind is key to preparing for her Elastic Girl act. As she develops her performance skills, she grows in spirit, breaking out of old roles to find new purpose. Further information about her background is woven into the narrative with skill.

This book has no serious shortcomings and I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. There were some typos but not an excessive amount. Perhaps some of the minor characters appeared rather suddenly. Hindi words were used frequently throughout. I was familiar with many of them but would say the meanings are clear in context. I did not find a glossary, which some readers might feel is lacking. Some of the characters come to unfortunate ends. Readers should also be warned that this book contains graphic references to sexual exploitation, including the rape of minors. Consequently, those who would have a problem with those aspects should avoid this book.

Otherwise, I would recommend this to anyone who would love to read about a talented heroine who triumphs in the most challenging circumstances. The flowing style and short chapters make for a light read, although as mentioned, some of the subject matter is heavy. Showing both the dreams and nightmares of show business, this book raises questions about the ethics of entertainment and highlights the lack of choices available to the poor, especially young women.

******
Elastic Girl
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[Note from Author: One comment that came up quite a lot is that people were concerned about the graphic scenes of abuse, since it is mentioned in the review. Readers may think there is a lot of this content in the book, but it's actually very minimal. It is limited to two short scenes which can easily be skipped over.]

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Post by Kat Berg » 04 Jan 2018, 00:09

I have a very difficult time with graphic rape scenes, particularly involving children! But, this book sounds so good I may have to try it and just skip the scenes that I am sensitive to. Thanks for the great review!

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 04 Jan 2018, 02:40

Kat Berg wrote:
04 Jan 2018, 00:09
I have a very difficult time with graphic rape scenes, particularly involving children! But, this book sounds so good I may have to try it and just skip the scenes that I am sensitive to. Thanks for the great review!
Oh yes, it's well worth reading! Skipping certain scenes is hopefully a solution.

Thanks for your reply.

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Post by kandscreeley » 04 Jan 2018, 08:24

Wow. This one sounds like it deals with some very tough subjects to read about. Still, it's a worthy book. Thanks for the great review.
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Post by Hildah Mose » 04 Jan 2018, 12:36

There seems to be a lot of lessons one can learn from this book. As much as I'd love to get to read it, I have issues with graphic scenes and rape of minors. I will have to pass until I find the courage to, hahaha! Thanks for the review.

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 04 Jan 2018, 13:23

kandscreeley wrote:
04 Jan 2018, 08:24
Wow. This one sounds like it deals with some very tough subjects to read about. Still, it's a worthy book. Thanks for the great review.
Yes, it's fantastic. Thanks for your reply!

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 04 Jan 2018, 13:24

Hildah Mose wrote:
04 Jan 2018, 12:36
There seems to be a lot of lessons one can learn from this book. As much as I'd love to get to read it, I have issues with graphic scenes and rape of minors. I will have to pass until I find the courage to, hahaha! Thanks for the review.
It's an excellent book, but that aspect is hard of course. Thanks for reading and replying!

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Post by Hildah Mose » 04 Jan 2018, 22:09

Please do check out my review and tell me what you think. I will appreciate it.

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Post by Breenasy » 05 Jan 2018, 00:39

Wow, this book closely relates to what a girl child goes through here in Africa as well, though the sensitive scenes are hard to take in its a true reflection of what is happening in the real world today. It's an awesome book.

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Post by Sarah Tariq » 05 Jan 2018, 01:04

The story of this circus family is deplorable and heart touching. Thanks, you mentioned about the sensitive subjects as this book deals with many painful realities. Thanks for this great, lovely review.
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Post by Miriam Molina » 05 Jan 2018, 01:26

I'd like to explore India's circus circuit with Muthu and her friends. Circus acts (save the freak shows) are usually death-defying and jaw-dropping. Sadly, the performers are paid a pittance not commensurate with the risks they face. Being mostly itinerant, they (especially the children) are also exposed to a lot of hazards.

Thanks for the helpful review, ButterscotchCherrie!

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 05 Jan 2018, 04:46

Hildah Mose wrote:
04 Jan 2018, 22:09
Please do check out my review and tell me what you think. I will appreciate it.
will do!

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 05 Jan 2018, 04:48

Breenasy wrote:
05 Jan 2018, 00:39
Wow, this book closely relates to what a girl child goes through here in Africa as well, though the sensitive scenes are hard to take in its a true reflection of what is happening in the real world today. It's an awesome book.
It really is awesome on so many levels. Thanks for reading and replying.

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 05 Jan 2018, 04:51

Sarah Tariq wrote:
05 Jan 2018, 01:04
The story of this circus family is deplorable and heart touching. Thanks, you mentioned about the sensitive subjects as this book deals with many painful realities. Thanks for this great, lovely review.
Yes, the book addresses many aspects. Thanks for your kind comment :)

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 05 Jan 2018, 04:53

Miriam Molina wrote:
05 Jan 2018, 01:26
I'd like to explore India's circus circuit with Muthu and her friends. Circus acts (save the freak shows) are usually death-defying and jaw-dropping. Sadly, the performers are paid a pittance not commensurate with the risks they face. Being mostly itinerant, they (especially the children) are also exposed to a lot of hazards.

Thanks for the helpful review, ButterscotchCherrie!
This book covers a multitude of issues excellently. Thanks for your reply!

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