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What the body remembers
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385496052, Paperback)Shauna Singh Baldwin's What the Body Remembers begins and ends with rebirth--an apt metaphor, perhaps, for the tragedy of Indian partition that forms the backdrop for her story. Though politics overshadows the lives of all the characters, the heart of this first novel is in the home where Sardarji, a middle-aged Sikh engineer, has brought his new wife, 16-year-old Roop. The only problem is, his current wife, Satya, is less than thrilled about sharing hearth and husband. Satya's inability to bear a child has led to Sardarji's recent marriage, and this fact, combined with jealousy has turned her heart "black and dense as a stone within her." Her rival is not only 25 years younger, but of considerably lower social rank, and her husband's obvious infatuation with Roop rankles considerably:
Can a young woman ever know his friends and laugh with them in that rueful way? How will a young woman know that he breathes deeply when he thinks too much, that he wipes his forehead in the cold heart of winter when the British settlement officer approaches to collect his yearly taxes? How can a young woman know how to manage his flour mill while he is hunting kakar with his English "superiors"? How will she know how to give orders that sound as if she is a mere mouth for his words? How will she know that his voice is angry with the servants only when he is tired or hungry? How can she understand that all his talk of logic and discipline in the English people's corridors and his writing in brown paper files about the great boons of irrigation engineering brought by the conquerors are belied by his donations to the freedom-fighting Akali party?The rift between the two wives widens when Roop gives birth, first to a daughter and then to a son, and both children are sent to Satya for rearing. Eventually the younger wife demands the ouster of the elder from the household, and Satya is sent away. But her spirit is not exiled entirely, and years later, when Roop and Sardarji find themselves swept up in the bloody partition of India and Pakistan, it is memories of the elder woman's strength and wisdom that Roop draws on to survive. Baldwin develops her characters' personalities and interactions against the backdrop of changing Anglo-Indian relations; sometimes the political bleeds into the personal, as the novel juxtaposes India's struggle for independence with the smaller outrages and betrayals Satya and Roop suffer at their husband's hands--and each other's. What the Body Remembers is a powerful combination of historical and domestic drama, marking a promising debut for Shauna Singh Baldwin. --Sheila Bright
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:49 -0400)
In 1947 Punjab, a Sikh landowner with a barren wife takes a second one so he can have children. The wives maneuver for influence, their effort complicated by the political situation--the man is distracted by India's independence and partition--but eventually the wife with the children wins out. A first novel.