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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Sutra of the Pearl: A Journey to India; a Path to Forgiveness by Lee Kaiser is a contemporary fiction novel that follows its female protagonist, Julie Paglia, to India in the hope of finding ancient texts. Julie's goal is pretty straightforward except for one minor detail: she has zero idea how to even get offshore from the seaside village she's been in for months to go diving and even try to look for the texts. And then, she does. What she finds is not exactly what she was looking for, but it is still a massive discovery. National Geographic is calling. Also calling is a group that shares her passion for environmental causes...and this is when everything derails. Assistance to eco-terrorists under false pretenses and the legal problems surrounding her discovery and her past is bad enough, but when you pile on issues that both she and her boyfriend Ram have and then multiply it by about a thousand when both include unrelated deaths...you've got yourself a drama worth reading.
I love Julie Paglia as a character and even though she can sometimes be a little on the kooky side, it's pretty difficult not to root for her in Sutra of the Pearl. Ram is equally intriguing and even though in my mind he crosses an unforgivable line, Lee Kaiser is exceptional in crafting depth and authenticity in both as complex characters, warts and all. And there are a lot of warts. This is probably one of the most flawed casts of characters I've encountered. It is also one of the most entertaining. As a woman who is married to a South Asian man, the scene at a family dinner is, sadly, not entirely far off from reality in a lot of cases and particularly in the early nineties. I am on the fence regarding Julie's culpability as an “observer” in one of the book's more open plots, and I was kind of underwhelmed by the baby Doni arc. That said, Kaiser's complete dedication to accurately depicting PTSD and how trauma, particularly violent abuse, can continue to rob otherwise beautiful moments until the day we die is gorgeous in how profoundly raw it is. Between the characters, the subplots, the racism, family dynamics, murder, success, pain, and everything else this book offers, I would give it an entire jar of gold coins if I could. Very highly recommended.