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Forbidden Daughter [Paperback]

Shobhan Bantwal

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Book Description

Aug. 26 2008
Set in the sensual richness of India, Shobhan Bantwal's gripping new novel asks: Where can a woman turn when her life's greatest blessing is seen as a curse?

It's a girl! For most young couples, news of their unborn child's gender brings joyful anticipation. Not so for Isha Tilak and her husband, Nikhil. They already have a beloved daughter, but Nikhil's parents, hard-wired to favor male children above all, coldly reject little Priya at every turn. Vain and selfish, they see female grandchildren as burdens, and would just as soon never meet the one growing in Isha's belly. Even the obstetrician agrees, going so far as to suggest the unthinkable, throwing Nikhil into a rage--and changing Isha's life forever. . .

When Nikhil is discovered brutally murdered, Isha is convinced it had something to do with his reaction to the doctor's hideous "solution" to their problem. Alone, grief-stricken, and relentlessly oppressed by in-laws who believe her baby is a bad omen, Isha sets out on her own. Born into a privileged class, Isha doesn't know the first thing about fending for herself, but to protect her precious daughters, she will learn. And she will cling to the hope given to her by a strange old mystic: that her baby will arrive on the auspicious night of Kojagari Purnima, the full harvest moon, and be a gift from Lakshmi, the goddess of well-being. Isha and her girls will need all the blessings they can get, for the greatest danger of all lies ahead. . .

Praise for Shobhan Bantwal and The Dowry Bride

"Splendidly depicts passion, brutality, and cultures in conflict." --Dorothy Garlock

"Vivid, rich. . .expertly portrays a young woman caught between love and duty, hope and despair." --Anjali Banerjee


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From Publishers Weekly

Bantwal (The Dowry Bride) shifts her focus from arranged marriages to the high stakes parents place on producing a male heir in contemporary India in her middling sophomore outing. Isha Tilak and her husband, Nikhil, are counting on their second child to be a son. But when an ultrasound reveals she's carrying a girl, an illegal abortion is proposed, both by Nikhil's wealthy parents and by Isha's physician, Dr. Karnik. Nikhil staunchly refuses and soon turns up dead, and Isha can't help wondering if he may have been killed for not going along with the abortion. Unfortunately, the dialogue is often flat and didactic ( Did you know that a conservative estimate puts anywhere between eight and ten million girls as either aborted or killed in infancy in the last two decades?), and the narrative shifts too late from ponderous exposition to almost page-turning suspense as Isha tries to determine who was involved in Nikhil's murder. Less time on the soapbox and more time getting into the heads of the characters would have helped. (Sept.) ""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. PreSchool-Grade 2–It all begins innocently enough, when Violet the dog drops a fuzzy green tennis ball down a prairie-dog hole on the title page. When it finally lands deep in the underground tunnels, dozens of little dogs are gazing at it with trepidation. The biggest prairie dog of all, the bully Big Bark, comes to take a look, but before he can get close enough, Pip Squeak runs up to the ball and exclaims, ‘It's fuzzy!' ‘Oooooooh!' gasped the other dogs. Soon, they all begin adorning themselves with pieces of lime-green fuzz, ignoring Big Bark's commands that they stop this foolishness. Prairie dogs come from all over to help themselves until the ball is plucked bare. War breaks out, leaving Pip Squeak feeling rather guilty for starting it all. While the embattled dogs collapse in exhaustion, Big Bark steals all of the fuzz, proclaiming himself king of the fuzz, which makes him an easy target for an eagle, who swoops down and grabs him. Pip Squeak rallies the others to come to Big Bark's aid. The marvelously rendered mixed-media illustrations, with vivid blues, earthy browns, and that luminescent green, capture the true fuzzy nature and greenish glow of the ball. As in the author's popular Tops and Bottoms (Harcourt, 1995), this book employs both horizontal and vertical spreads, effectively taking readers deep into the underground realm. A wonderful addition for storyhours, this title will be requested again and again.–Lisa Gangemi Kropp, Middle Country Public Library, Centereach, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing story of modern India Sept. 2 2008
By C. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Isha Tilak is happily married with a small daughter and pregnant with her second child. She lives with her husband, Nikhil, and his parents in Palgaum, a small town in southwestern India. Her life begins to change, though she doesn't know it, with a visit to her doctor for an ultrasound. As she and her husband watch the test, the doctor tells them that the baby Isha is carrying is a girl. Then he says "We can fix that."

Isha and Nikhil are stunned. The doctor is suggesting terminating the pregnancy because the child is not a boy! They are both aware that in the past boys had been much preferred to girls in Indian culture but are shocked that a modern doctor would be so nonchalantly suggesting an abortion on the basis of the baby's sex, which is against the law in modern India. They refuse, of course, but are deeply disturbed.

A short time later, tragedy strikes the Tilak family. Nikhil is found dead at the family business. It looks as if he was robbed and stabbed while he was in the process of closing for the evening. He was the only son in his family and his parents' grief is overwhelming. They start to take their anger out on Isha and her small daughter. They say the baby girl she is carrying is a curse on the family and was the cause of her father's death. They make it obvious that they think she should have had the abortion. Isha finds that she cannot continue to live with them and subject her child to their animosity. Despite the fact that she has nowhere to go, no status as a widow and no way to earn any money, she takes her daughter and leaves.

Thus begins Isha's journey to finding herself, finding out what really happened to her husband, and creating a future for herself and her two beautiful daughters. She surprises herself with her own strength and ability to adapt and grow despite the challenges that she encounters.

I really liked this book. The characters felt real, were interesting and well written and the story was engaging. Though the idea of using abortion as a means of sex selection is disturbing, I think the author right to bring it to light in this way. I look forward to reading future books by Shobhan Bantwal.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From S. Krishna's Books Oct. 31 2008
By skrishna - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Isha Tilak is distraught. Her beloved husband, Nikhil, has been murdered under suspicious circumstances, and she is heavily pregnant with their second child. To make matters even worse, Nikhil's parents are pressuring her to abort her unborn baby - not because the child would be a burden, but because it is a girl. Isha has witnessed their mistreatment of her older daughter, Priya, and refuses to subject her second child to that harshness simply on the basis of her sex. When her in-laws' request for an abortion becomes a demand, Isha leaves their home and sets out on her own, not knowing where she can go or who she can turn to. All she knows is that she must protect her children, her beautiful daughters.

Shobhan Bantwal has a history of writing about controversial Indian subjects. Her first book, The Dowry Bride, was about bride-burnings in India; specifically, it was the story of a woman who wasn't producing children in a marriage and uncovered a plot by her mother-in-law to kill her so she wouldn't have to return the dowry (which she would have to do if there were a divorce). This second book is about female abortions and infanticide. These topics, while uncomfortable, do take place in India (female abortion much more so than bride burnings, if I am not mistaken), and it is important that people become aware of them. Bantwal writes her novels in a manner that is easy to digest and, while shocking, brings important issues to light. Her resolve to educate others is admirable.

The story of the novel, while a bit stilted in places, is sweet. We follow Isha's story and watch her develop from a pampered girl into a strong, independent woman. She is very human - guarded and careful, not quick to forgive others. Sometimes in stories of adversity, the protagonist is written as a superhuman, someone better than the rest of us. Isha isn't like that; she is very real and only does what she must do to protect herself and her children. The end of the story is a little crazy and unbelievable; one of the characters remarks that he feels like he is in a Bollywood movie. However, it is still an extremely worthwhile and enjoyable book.

Though the controversial subject of female infanticide doesn't receive much publicity in the United States, it is a real problem in India. It is now illegal in India for a doctor to discuss the sex of a child with its parents before birth, though as we see in The Forbidden Daughter, that doesn't prevent many doctors from doing it anyway. It is important to note that this isn't a general mindset - my parents, who are Indian, have two daughters and have always been more than thrilled to have us. While a reader shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that this is the mindset of all Indians, it is a serious and very heartbreaking problem.

The Forbidden Daughter is a wonderful story that defies genres. It is a daring book, bringing to light a problem that has been hidden just beneath the surface in India for quite some time. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in controversial issues, or anyone simply looking for an engaging story.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a piece of great literature by any means Feb. 2 2009
By Carol Galuskin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While this story about the practice of aborting female fetuses in India because of the cultural desire for male offspring is timely, the book is not particularly well written. The evolution of the story is very predictable and the author just cannot help herself, it seems, from constantly stating the obvious. We readers are capable of drawing those simplistic conclusions ourselves.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This book is meant for romance lovers Oct. 18 2008
By drei Engel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I picked this book up at the airport. The cover art and subject had caught my attention. I had anticipated the subject of selective abortion in India to be approached in a similar quality manner as the problems of Afghan women in "A Thousand Splendid Suns". The difference though is immense. The book starts feeling like the literary version of a soap opera. Halfway into the book I noticed that the first page explained the target audience. The radiant reviews came from Romantic Time, RomanceReviewsToday.com etc. With this in mind I lowered my expectations and enjoyed the book as a quick, easy and relaxing romantic book that also (briefly) touched on the shocking subject of selective abortion.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A woman's consequences plays out in India Aug. 28 2008
By Armchair Interviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this heart-wrenching drama, Shobhan Bantwal gives us a captivating glimpse into contemporary Indian culture, including the emerging dark side of gender selective abortions. Tackling this difficult subject head-on, Bantwal presents Isha, a young mother given a horrendous choice-her unborn daughter or her family, wealth, status and security.

Isha's decision to keep her baby ultimately leads to a dreadfully treacherous life. Shunned by her family and cut off from her entire social network, Isha is forced to fend for herself and her daughters in a society that no longer acknowledges her.

In the second half of the novel, Isha finds herself ensnared in the dark world of selective abortions. Holding evidence which could expose a prominent doctor's illegal and immoral acts places Isha in the center of a dangerous target, threatening to harm her and all those close to her. Bribery, blackmail, kidnapping, murder-this thriller turns fast-paced and heart-stopping until the exciting final conclusion.

Bantwal peppers the story with romance and Indian culture, creating a clear vision of the complex life in modern small-town India. She portrays the tremendous pressure on young Indian married women to produce a male heir, even now in 2008. Though Isha's life and culture are probably very different than that of the majority of readers, we are drawn to her, struggle along with her and cheer for her until the very end.

Though the subject of The Forbidden Daughter is a difficult one emotionally, we are compelled to keep reading, to stand as a light with Isha against this dark world. Emotionally charged and poignant, this novel forces us to examine the fate and future of women in contemporary India.

Armchair Interviews says: Powerful story for powerful subject.

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