A non-Indian Vidya Lakshmi?

I’m playing a game with other folks on GoodReads where we pick up tasks related to seasonal holidays from around the world. This was one of the tasks for Diwali.

Vidya-Lakshmi is the 7th of her 8 forms. “Vidya” means knowledge as well as education, not just degrees or diplomas from the university, but real all-round education. Thus, this form of Goddess Lakshmi is the giver of knowledge of the arts and sciences. Which character from a book that you read this year could be a non-Indian version of Vidya-Lakshmi?

I nominate Marie Mitchell from ‘American Spy’ as a candidate for Vidya Lakshmi because she attempts to pass on to her sons the things they need to know to understand their past and to protect themselves in the future..

‘American Spy’ is written as a first-person account by Marie Mitchell to her two twin sons. The account opens with a description of an armed man breaking into their home and trying to kill them. The rest is an explanation, for the sons to read when they are old enough, of the background to the attack and the need for the flight from home that follows it.

This ‘letters to my sons’ format means that the book is as focused on their family history as it is upon the ins and outs of Cold War spying. It also means that it tends to be more reflective in style. There are moments of tension and there is a fair amount of action but most of the novel is a mother’s attempt to pass on to her sons who she is and who they should strive to become. Not surprisingly, this means a lot of the novel is about what it means to be black in America in the eighties.

There’s a lot in this book about what the excluded owe to those who exclude them and about how to make a place for yourself in a world that doesn’t want you to be in it.

Marie Mitchell is someone who has learned to keep her inner self secret, hiding it behind constructed identities that she thinks will help her get what she wants. She does this because, at a very deep level, she accepts that she cannot have what she wants if she presents herself as she truly is.

She passes this notion of living your life undercover on to her sons in passages like this one, where she talks about her love for a former boyfriend.

‘A part of me still loves Robbie but I can’t tell him that. He’d take it as an invitation. I can only confess that to you two, here in these pages. To tell anyone else how I feel about him is to blow my cover. Throughout my life, the most consistent way I’ve revealed who I really am is through whom I’ve chosen to love.’

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