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Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur

Difficult Daughters (original 1998; edition 2010)

by Manju Kapur

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194360,720 (3.07)5
Title:Difficult Daughters
Authors:Manju Kapur
Info:Faber and Faber (2010), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:ALL FICTION READ-OWNED & UNOWNED, Read but unowned
Tags:*INDIA literature, read in 2012, 20th century literature, 1990s, commonwealth writers prize

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Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur (1998)



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'A woman without her own home and family is a woman without moorings'
By sally tarbox on 17 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback
An interesting read that opens with the cremation of the narrator's mother. She subsequently tries to understand her mother's life better, researching her history and recreating events.
The mother, Virmati, was one of the difficult daughters (the narrator, who only tells us a little about herself, was the other). Resentful of having to spend her teenage years assisting her constantly pregnant mother, she dreamt of further education and fell in love with a married professor...
This isn't a love story as such because the professor comes across as such a curiously selfish and unpleasing individual that I found it hard to see how Virmati maintained her feelings for him. Also it isn't a story of a 'strong woman' breaking society's norms - although she does indeed go against her family, she lets her husband choose her university course and fears to join political activists for fear of his disapproval.
Set in the 1940s, the backdrop of the Partition of India gives added interest to a very readable novel. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
The author brings together three generations of women in what today are two countries: India and Pakistan. The book starts with a daughter at her mother's funeral, filled with conflicting emotions and the realisation that she didn't really know her mother. What comes next is her journey across India and Pakistan in search of some kind of closure, talking to family and friends and gathering information. The story of her search intermingles with that of her mother's story and that of her grandmother.

The three generations of women are very different. The grandmother has had some education, but is sent away from her family when she marries into a good Hindu one. Constantly pregnant, she relies more and more on her eldest daughter, Virmati. While Virmati does her duty, she is starving for some sign of affection from her mother, but none is forthcoming. Her mother is just too worn out to give of herself emotionally. Her daughter studies longer, despite her education being interrupted by family duty. She is encouraged by a visit of a glamorous city-dwelling cousin, who has chosen to study rather than marry. Defying the wishes of her parents, Virmati keeps on studying, putting off the date of her wedding more than once. When her aunt (and neighbour) takes in a lodger, the U.K.-educated Professor, her life is turned upside-down, torn between filial duty and love for a married man. Perhaps surprisingly we know least about the granddaughter, Ida, the original narrator of the book. She has clearly been unhappily married and estranged from her family, but we can only glean information from her reaction to her mother's story.

The most important them is that of women, their lives, their fate. Their only validation seems to come from marrying and having children, preferably sons. Those, even those from forward thinking families, who decide to continue their education, or even not to marry, are viewed with disappointment and suspicion. The granddaughter's own story shows that despite the time that has passed.

The situation of women can also be seen in the secondary characters. In Lahore, Virmati shares a room with an activist fighting against the coming Partition. She appears to be one of the few truly happy characters, somehow managing successfully juggle family and education. Her cousin is also an important role-model, stressing that women need to see education and a career as a choice not a last resort. Virmati's love rival is the Professor's wife, a barely literate woman chosen for him as a child. She tries to please her husband, a man who barely thinks of her, and understandably doesn't like the interloper. She tries to be a good wife, as she has been taught, sadly not realising that she can never satisfy him. Both women suffer at the hands of a man who wants his cake and to eat it, not caring about the consequences.

What is sad, for me, is the lack of communication between the women. You would hope that a mother would want her daughter to have a better life, a more satisfied existence, but the women presented here protect the long-standing traditions more than the men. It seems that tradition is more important, especially as the actions of a daughter affect her whole family.

A very interesting read, a portrait of one and then two countries through the lives of women. The struggle for independence and education in two countries finding their feet in the difficult post-Independence era. It definitely made me think, not only that, it made me take a long, hard look at the relationships between the women and generations in my family. ( )
  soffitta1 | Apr 11, 2011 |
Difficult Daughters tells the story of Virmati, a young woman who falls in love with a married professor just as her family is planning her own marriage. It vividly describes India around the time of partition, but more importantly gives more depth to a story which sounded familiar. It would be predictable to write the story of a rebellious daughter who embraces education and career as an alternative to arranged marriage, but what Kapur does is more subtle. Virmati makes tentative moves into independence but in fact makes very few choices for herself and yearns for a conventional life with her lover.

Likewise, this isn't a predictable story of forbidden love. 'The professor' (as he is primarily referred to) is a selfish and domineering character, binding Virmati to him when it would be kinder to let her go and preferring the romantic ideal to the real woman. He is as domineering as her family, albeit with different values, and her interest in education is largely shaped by what he wants her to become. Virmati is likeable but often frustrating, an intelligent woman letting everyone else control her life - a problem which isn't neatly solved. These complications made the novel far more interesting to me, but it's not for someone who's looking for a conventional love story.

On a negative note, the story does drag on a bit in the middle and sometimes Virmati becomes irritating. I also thought Kapur should have expanded a little more on the life of Virmati's daughter, the narrator. Her background is deliberately vague, but she meets Virmati's family and friends to learn about her mother and I would have liked to find out how these characters from the main story had developed and aged. ( )
  Tess22 | Sep 14, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571195695, Paperback)

Set around the time of Partition and written with absorbing intelligence and sympathy, Difficult Daughters is the story of a woman torn between family duty, the desire for education, and illicit love. Virmati, a young woman born in Amritsar into an austere and high-minded household, falls in love with a neighbour, the Professor--a man who is already married. That the Professor eventually marries Virmati, installs her in his home (alongside his furious first wife) and helps her towards further studies in Lahore, is small consolation to her scandalised family. Or even to Virmati, who finds that the battle for her own independence has created irrevocable lines of partition and pain around her.

Difficult Daughters was short-listed for the Crossword Book Award in India.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:57 -0400)

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