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The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of…
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The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (2015)

by Rafia Zakaria

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book was at once educational as well as heart-rending. As an American, it is hard to fathom certain customs practiced cultures much older than our own. That said, these are customs and mores that have been in place far longer than the United States has been a country. It is one thing to read about other cultures in a broad way- it gives us the luxury of looking at things dispassionately at times, as one would view a lion at a zoo. Rafia Zakaria offers the reader a look at a single family, and just how these age-old customs impact individuals, from the wife who is supplanted by a younger, newer wife, to the children down to the aunts and uncles who see things differently than the younger generation. Above it all, this wonderful book is a chronicle of Pakistan's history from a woman's point of view, which has not been done enough in my opinion. I recommend the Upstairs Wife for anyone who is interested in Asian and Middle-Eastern Cultures, Women's Rights, History and global Justice. It is written with authority, weaving in History, personal anecdotes, and a good measure of passion. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and never once lost interest. ( )
  Archivist13 | Nov 7, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Zakaria, a journalist/lawyer/activist, weaves the history of her childhood/aunt/grandmother with that of Pakistan's. Super appreciative of the crash course in Pakistan history&politics since its founding in 1947 - highlighting Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of a muslim nation. The narrative centers around her aunt's drama - her husband takes a second wife without her blessing. Everything is interesting and informative. This is the way to write a ... can't figure out how to classify it, which is delightful. ( )
  dandelionroots | May 30, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In The Upstairs Wife, I was expecting more about Zakaria's family than an in-depth account of Pakistan's birth to its current day Islamic state. Despite the history the narrative came across as truth-based rather than fact-based in most parts. That could've been because of the switching between timelines and POVs. At any rate, being completely new to Pakistan, I was intrigued, shocked, appalled. The parts of the story dealing with Zakaria's Aunt Amina - the intimacy mentioned in the book's title - demonstrated the devastating, de-humanizing effects of polygamy. I don't know how those women do it...

Highly recommended to anyone wanting a closer look at Pakistan written by someone who witnessed (some of the) events firsthand.

3.5 stars

Side note: I watched the 2010 documentary Bhutto prior to reading this book, which added historical context from a source other than Zakaria. ( )
  flying_monkeys | Feb 12, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Zakaria gives us a history of Pakistan, and especially of Karachi, tied in with her family's history there and especially her aunt Amina's life after her husband took a second wife. The choice to layer and organize the book in that way was particularly successful, I think.

The book is more history than biography/memoir, so if you're looking for a straight memoir of this period in Pakistan I would look for something else. The balance of the book worked very well for me, and through her own and her family's experiences Zakaria is able to keep the focus largely on how individuals are affected, and how individuals in the government have acted and reacted. The result is deeply human history, and an important read right now especially.

Certainly recommended. ( )
  mabith | Feb 3, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a fascinating and well-written story describing both the history of Pakistan and the life of one specific family over the course of that history. The family story is enticing and pulls you into the book from the start; the country history is interwoven so seamlessly that you are drawn into that as well. The characters are rich and written with compassion, and the story flows effortlessly. ( )
  MizPurplest | Feb 1, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807003360, Hardcover)

A memoir of Karachi through the eyes of its women
 
Rafia Zakaria’s Muslim-Indian family immigrated to Pakistan from Bombay in 1962, feeling the situation for Muslims in India was precarious and that Pakistan represented enormous promise. And for some time it did. Her family prospered, and the city prospered. But in the 1980s, Pakistan’s military dictators began an Islamization campaign designed to legitimate their rule—a campaign that particularly affected women. The political became personal for Zakaria’s family when her Aunt Amina’s husband did the unthinkable and took a second wife, a betrayal of kin and custom that shook the foundation of her family.
 
The Upstairs Wife dissects the complex strands of Pakistani history, from the problematic legacies of colonialism to the beginnings of terrorist violence to increasing misogyny, interweaving them with the arc of Amina’s life to reveal the personal costs behind ever-more restrictive religious edicts and cultural conventions. As Amina struggles to reconcile with a marriage and a life that had fallen below her expectations, we come to know the dreams and aspirations of the people of Karachi and the challenges of loving it not as an imagined city of Muslim fulfillment but as a real city of contradictions and challenges.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:28 -0400)

"A memoir of Karachi through the eyes of its women. Rafia Zakaria's Muslim-Indian family immigrated to Pakistan from Bombay in 1962, feeling the situation for Muslims in India was precarious and that Pakistan represented enormous promise. And for some time it did. Her family prospered, and the city prospered. But in the 1980s, Pakistan's military dictators began an Islamization campaign designed to legitimate their rule--a campaign that particularly affected women. The political became personal for Zakaria's family when her Aunt Amina's husband did the unthinkable and took a second wife, a betrayal of kin and custom that shook the foundation of her family. The Upstairs Wife dissects the complex strands of Pakistani history, from the problematic legacies of colonialism to the beginnings of terrorist violence to increasing misogyny, interweaving them with the arc of Amina's life to reveal the personal costs behind ever-more restrictive religious edicts and cultural conventions. As Amina struggles to reconcile with a marriage and a life that had fallen below her expectations, we come to know the dreams and aspirations of the people of Karachi and the challenges of loving it not as an imagined city of Muslim fulfillment but as a real city of contradictions and challenges"--… (more)

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