Nikita Gill’s The Girl and the Goddess: Stories and Poems of Divine Wisdom is a novel in verse that tells the story of a young girl growing up in India. Picking up during Partition in 1947, Gill weaves together poetry, prose, and Hindu mythology into a compelling narrative about personal growth.
This book was a journey, and one that hit home on so many levels. Growing up Hindu in an Indian family (and with some very basic knowledge of Hindi) I was probably got more out of the novel than many readers will. Even without that background though, the book remains a masterpiece. At first I was unconvinced that there was any merit to the “novel in verse” format (and this is from someone who reads Pushkin!) but I cannot imagine now any other way this story could be told. Gill’s poetry is both beautiful and heartbreaking, and brings Paro to life in a way few authors have managed.
The actual story is simple enough, but it’s littered with just enough lines to occasionally leave the reader devastated. For instance:
Soon, your heart will crack to pieces when you realize hell is loving someone so much you call them your favourite and they want nothing to do with you any more, and you don’t even know what you did wrong.Nikita Gill, The Girl and the Goddess
Or maybe I’m just overly sentimental.
Characters in this novel endure hardships such as racism, misogyny, poverty, sexual assault, and homophobia, and several others. This I do not consider a spoiler because Gill provides a content warning listing these and and more before the table of contents. I imagine Gill drew upon personal experience for several of these, considering her own British-Indian heritage—I am personally able to relate to only a handful of the struggles described, and Gill’s writing on these subjects is heartfelt and personal.
I will refrain from discussing this much further so as to avoid spoilers, but it’s impossible for me to discuss what makes this book so brilliant—at least to me—without at least touching on its queer themes. Gill perfectly captures the doubt, guilt, and shame that comes along with discovering that part of one’s identity. Around the halfway point is a sequence in which Paro begins to question her sexuality, and turns to the internet for help. I will tell you right now right now that every queer kid like me with internet access has done just that, late at night or in secrecy (I remember reading a Tumblr post once that said something along the lines if “if you’ve ever Googled ‘am I gay quiz’ let me save you some time and say the answer is probably yes”). The poem “Search History” is perhaps Gill’s smartest. She focuses on Paro’s questions without revealing any answers—we as readers already know what she must be discovering, but examining these very real issues through the eyes of a young girl allows readers to feel all of that pain ourselves, as if for the first time.
If I were a high school English teacher, this would be part of my curriculum. The Girl and the Goddess is a study in personal struggles that many can relate to, and that so many others need to learn. People might complain that it’s too religious (as if we’ve never read anything Christian for school!) but I truly believe it’s that important, and that this book is just so special. I would recommend it to anyone.