The daughter of Christian missionaries, Kate James spent a good part of her childhood and early teens in south India, and she continues to visit India regularly when time and money allow. When Gods Collide: An unbeliever’s pilgrimage along India’s Coromandel Coast is Kate’s account of her journey to India to find out more about the murder ten years earlier of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons.
She had always thought of India as a place tolerant of different religions, and so she also wants to know how religious sentiment is changing in India. Having rejected the faith of her extended family as an adult, she is still bound on many levels to those she calls “my people”. It is not entirely clear until the end of the book exactly why the murder raises so many strong emotions in Kate and her motivations become clearer, to herself and also to the reader, as the story unfolds. Along the way she visits her old school, an ashram, temples, and a hospital. The people she meets have their own stories and insights to share.
Kate tells a journalist that she is always happy in Singapore, no matter in which direction she’s travelling, because it means she is on her way home. It’s a comment that sums up her life in a way as someone who has lived between countries and cultures. My favourite chapter is the last one when she comes home to Melbourne. Her dogs lick her face and cry with happiness when they see her again – “of course, they also do that when I come home from a five minute trip to the milk bar.” It’s autumn, the best time of year in Melbourne and a trip to the bustling Preston Market – with the Vietnamese woman who sells Kate her fish, Shane the butcher, the Italian owner of Placido’s Coffee – makes her think “maybe these are my people”.
This is an incredibly honest book. Kate shares her uncertainties, questioning and insecurities in a very open way. I suspect the journey Kate James is on is not over yet. I very much enjoyed this book and I hope to read more the next time she takes to the open road.
Kate James – When Gods Collide
published by Hardie Grant 2012