For over two decades, American Madame Natraja managed the small guesthouse Saraswati. When she lived in segregated Nevus, North Carolina in the 1950s, people knew the three hundred pound plus woman as Estelle. A
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scandal forced Estelle to leave town and she kept moving until she settled in India's holiest of cities, Varanasi.
Her adopted home city has racial problems too as violence periodically erupts between the Hindus and Muslims. When someone murders a Muslim near Saraswati, the city leaders impose a strict curfew with no one allowed to
leave their homes. The guesthouse visitors see a side of India they never expected to observe and learn how precious life truly is. Madame Natraja never veers from her set course until a friend vanishes.
The Lonely Planet tour guidebook lists the main protagonist as a "one woman blend of East and West". That is a very insightful look at Madame Natraja, who understands her western roots even as she embraces aspects of eastern culture. The story line is intriguing and complex, as Peggy Payne has written an intense novel with many layers of interpretation available to the reader.