A corrupt cult controlling Calcutta

Loren RossonThe Kali cult depicted by Dan Simmons in Song of Kali is foul beyond words. (Forget the cartoonish portrayal in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

"Song of Kali" by Dan Simmons is available from the library in paperback.

“Song of Kali” by Dan Simmons is available from the library in paperback.

The Kāpālikas run Calcutta like the Mafia runs American cities. Businessmen by day, killers by night, they sacrifice people (including their own members) to make their goddess manifest on earth. Their evil seems to have somehow infected the stones and air of Calcutta; pain and hurt are the only language people understand.

The story is vile and depressing, but in an understated way that makes everything seem too real to be fictitious. There are no cheap thrills or victories against the Kali cult; no one is brought to justice; the cult goes on; the city of Calcutta sweats poverty, despair, and anger in endless cycles.

The story involves a magazine writer who is sent to Calcutta to obtain poetry supposedly written by a man who was thought to be long dead. He takes his wife and infant child (bad move) and becomes entangled with a gruesome cult that wields ugly power, apparently both natural and supernatural.

The writer is from my home state of New Hampshire, and some of his third-world encounters mirror my own in Africa. I was surprised by how strongly I identified with him, though of course I never ran afoul of anything like the cult of Kali.

Simmons is known for writing in many genres, and we have most of his books in the library collection. Only recently did I realize that we had never acquired this, his first novel. It’s in our collection now.

I consider Song of Kali the best thing Simmons ever wrote. Critics say that first novels often show authors at their most honest, writing without regard for anyone’s expectations, and this one fits that profile.

If you’re a horror guru who is hard to please–if you’re craving that rare novel that freaks you out in a completely new way–then I would strongly recommend Song of Kali.


About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

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