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The Wild Wind Reader Reviews

The Wild Wind

Rachel Aygin

I didn't realise just how much I was enjoying reading this until suddenly I had finished the book.

Translator Sissy was born in Kerala but grew up in Zambia. Her story is revealed piece by piece as she reflects on her childhood and how her life began to change in 1978 when a plane was shot down over the school campus where she lived with her family.

The style is effortless, like floating down a river on a lazy Sunday. Even the dramatic events somehow feel as though the reader is viewing them from a distance and the result is that even things that should be shocking are not.

Kalayil cleverly manages to make the reader feel shell-shocked as though affected by the war. I didn't realise just how much I was enjoying reading this until suddenly I had finished it.

Sarah Webb

Discovered another new author to add to my list!

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s very well written, with an interesting story and realistic characters. It was interesting too as it wasn’t really a place or a lifestyle that I knew anything about.

Sissy is the narrator, telling the story from the perspective of her current life as an adult living in modern day America. For most of the book she is looking back at her childhood in Zambia where national events impact on her life and family in ways she doesn’t understand at the time. With hindsight and an adult perspective she tries to make sense of what happened.

I would have liked to hear more of her life in America as the taster we got was intriguing. But that isn’t really the point of this book: it’s about Sissy unravelling what happened in her childhood, so I understand the need to focus more on that period (and it was still very interesting – I just wanted both!).

I’m pleased to see that Sheena Kalayil has already written two other novels which I haven’t read, so I’ll be checking those out shortly.


The Wild Wind by Sheena Kalayil is a triumph! Based on the true story of the author, told very eloquently with passion and humility about her life in Zambia as a child.

This book is a reflection of the author's childhood after she became a translator in America with some parts true, others fabricated.

The storyline jumps from present day to childhood and back again - the only slight criticism would be that I found it rather confusing without a date heading for each chapter. Going beyond that however I found the descriptions of surroundings, culture and Sheena's childhood really interesting, and her observations of relationships accurate and to the point.

The Olikara family have many ups and downs during Sissy's childhood, which is set during troubled times in Zambia with Rhodesia and Mozambique at loggerheads either side of their homeland. Sissy has many scary moments during this time and various people in her life disappear only to appear again years later. The way the story is written really endears the reader to Sissy and the troubles she has as she becomes more aware of the opposite sex and how relationships work. I really enjoyed this novel and hope Sheena Kalayil writes more!

Clare Wilkins

A beautiful, eloquent, slowly-unwinding story about family and the places we call home.

Talented Sissy Olikara is a translator living in the United States. Enduring an impoverished existence she gives up dreams of academia and settles into a routine of commercial translation work, older boyfriend and seeming contentment.

However, thoughts of her complicated childhood are never far away and she finds her thoughts drifting back to her early life in India and then Zambia, where her parents moved for work. She recalls her idyllic early years before the move to Lusaka and later her father’s abrupt and shattering departure back to India. With a younger child to deal with and a job, Sissy’s mother is unable to cope and Sissy is forced to endure events and emotions far beyond her years and understanding.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite its understandably melancholy tone. It was incredibly atmospheric and the author beautifully described the sights and sounds of Sissy’s peaceful and then turbulent early life. The quest for her father is always on her mind and you sense that she won’t find peace until at least some of her questions are answered. That she doesn’t speak Malayalam – the language of her birthplace- always frustrates her endeavours and seems to represent the confusion and lack of understanding that she has always carried with her.

Val Rowe

A sensitively and beautifully crafted novel which left me longing to read more by Sheena Kalayil.

Sheena Kalayil uses her own life experiences of growing up in troubled Zambia to create this evocative story of family turmoil. Narrated through the eyes of Sissy Olikara, a translator based in the USA, Sissy describes her emotional rollercoaster of a childhood with its complex developing relationships within a small school community on the outskirts of Lusaka where her parents are teachers. Set amongst the volatility of threatened warfare, Sissy tries to deal with her entry into adulthood whilst learning about the complexity and emotional nature of relationships and the disappearance of her father.

I loved this book. I devoured each chapter, desperate to find out what happened next, but not wanting to finish it. The characters are so well depicted that the novel drew me in from the onset and I felt their emotional journeys amidst a backdrop of intrigue. Kalayil tempts us with drip fed indicators of future events which gradually unfold whilst skilfully accompanying them with a depth of emotion and humanity. However, what is untold is equally powerful. I especially enjoyed the storyline surrounding Sissy's relationship with her mother and its loving, yet fragile development.

I am delighted to have discovered an author who was previously unknown to me and have consequently ordered copies of her debut novel The Bureau of Second Chances, together with The Inheritance. I can't wait to read them!

Book Information

ISBN: 9781846974915
Publication date: 6th June 2019
Author: Sheena Kalayil
Publisher: Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited an imprint of Birlinn General
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 256 pages
Genres: Reader Reviewed Books, Family Drama, Literary Fiction,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),