Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Right after her thirteenth birthday, Koly’s parents announce it is time to find her a husband and begin preparing her dowry. While her mother works on her wedding sari, Koly starts on her wedding quilt creating pictures of her village with scraps of fabric and weaving in the anxiety she feels about her marriage — that her husband will find her as ugly as her bothers say she is, that her in-laws will not think she is an agreeable daughter-in-law. When the matchmaker finds her a sixteen-year-old of a high caste from a good family, Koly and her parents are excited about the match and work harder to increase the value of Koly’s marriage to secure the arrangement.

However, Koly and her parents arrive to find the sixteen-year-old is still a boy and a sickly one at that. Her parents are alarmed but cannot delay the marriage or cancel it outright without losing face within the community and ruining Koly’s good name and the marriage takes place as planned. Following her marriage, Koly learns other secrets and lies her new family kept from her until she eventually finds herself penniless and alone in a strange city filled with widows wearing white saris.

Whelan’s novel has stayed with me since its original publication in 2000, and I was hesitant to reread it for years because I worried my memories of the novel would not live up to another examination. I am so delighted that was not the case — it was still the beautiful, moving story I remembered it being.

Whelan writes with such vivid imagery and then reminds the reader of those scenes they visited earlier in the story as Koly discusses what she has depicted in her quilts — sewing along side her mother, the marigolds at the temple in Vrindavan, playing in the Ganges River, the dog chasing the gosling. This style heightens the emotions of the story helping the reader to better understand Koly’s suffering and connect the past with the present.

Despite my fond memories, there were aspects I forgot, including the ending, and I loved rediscovering characters who had faded from my recollection. So while I certainly went in with certain expectations, I also felt a bit like I was reading the novel for the first time, which made for an utterly enjoyable reread.

Book Mentioned:

  • Whelan, Gloria. Homeless Bird. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print. 216 pgs. ISBN: 0060284528. Source: Library.
Book Cover © HarperCollins. Retrieved: October 19, 2014.

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