Kate James, a chubby, mango-haired, Lonely Planet author struck me as a courageous adventurer, serial traveller and an investigative journalist of sorts. On her journey through India’s Coromandel Coast, James seeks to answer her own spiritual questions. Raised a Christian, a faith belonging to her parents, she never really owned it for herself. Australian Christian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons were killed by Hindus as a result of his outreach work. This murder forms a catalyst for Kate’s return to India and her own questioning of Christianity and beyond.

This book is part travel log, part investigative journalism, part memoir. As she journeys from Atheist, to Christian, to Buddhist we understand how prevalent and powerful Hinduism is in India. Kate shows us how it has influenced the ability of all other religions to exist. For these religions, reaching out to others is a crime, so they exist as missionaries. They provide help for people in the hope that their faith will be shared by osmosis. She visits temples, stays at a variety of missions and visits old friends from her childhood.

Her description of Graham Staines death at the hands of an angry mob was one of the most powerful parts of the book. Recalling eyewitness accounts and the impact the events had on them made me shudder and hold my newborn son a little closer. This strong writing was inconsistent, though, with some sections of the book needing more in my opinion.

I struggled to find enough description and imagery to form a decent mental picture of Kate or the places she visited. “Images of deities are everywhere in India” she said and went on to mention Kali, Ganesh, Krishna, Lakshmi, Hanuman and Devi. Despite discussing how prevalent their images are in the streets of India, James doesn’t bother to describe these gods.

I wanted to connect more with the story than I could but the unexplained Indian words frustrated me. A description of the foods she was eating would have been helpful alongside the Indian words like ‘pooris’ and ‘alu’. I was left wondering what she was eating. The term ‘salwar kameez’ was used repetitively. I figured out it was a practical garment with a scarf called a ‘dupatta’, one of few Indian words she explained. There was no description of a ‘salwar kameez’ though. I had to look that up on Google.

The elusive Salwar Kameez
The elusive Salwar Kameez

When God’s Collide is published by Hardie Grant Books and is released on February 1, 2012. My review will appear on the Hardie Grant Book Club at some stage soon. Thanks to Hardie Grant for the chance to review an advance copy of this book.