Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Review: Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur
Open Road Media
First line: The one thing I had wanted was not to be like my mother.
Quick Non-Spoilery Summary:
Ida's mother Virmati has just passed away. Though not close in life, Ida returns to the places where her mother lived to learn more about her history. The story is primarily that of Virmati and her childhood and early adulthood. Virmati was the oldest daughter of a well-off merchant family with 11 children, living in Amritsar in the 1930s. Her family were staunch supporters of education for girls, so Virmati was able to obtain a higher level of learning than many women of her time, but was still expected to take care of the household that her mother was unable to do due to her excessive pregnancies. Although her family is progressive in its stance on education, it is very traditional in other ways. The main events of the novel are set between the late 1930s and 1947 when India gained independence from Britain and the Partition occurred. It is set in Amritsar and Lahore, cities in the Punjab, one of which is in present day India and the other is in Pakistan.
Originally published in 1998, Difficult Daughters was Manju Kapur's first novel, and it reads a bit roughly at times. It is not polished. The transition between points of view are often awkward, and the pacing sometimes seems off. The author also uses a lot of Indian words that can be confusing.
However, most of that was forgotten as I was pulled into the story, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to read it in advance of the e-book's release. I am drawn to fiction set in foreign locales and stories that feature strong female characters and a sense of history in the making.
I would have liked to see a bit more of the characters' inner lives. Ida in particular seems like a missed opportunity. We see very little of her relationship with her mother. I would have loved to see more of Shakuntala, Virmati's unmarried, educated cousin who was another "difficult daughter".
If you like Difficult Daughters, you might also like Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.