What the Body Remembers Paperback – Sep 12 2000
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
The dramatic and brutal story behind the 1947 partition of India, as played out in the region of Punjab, is the compelling backdrop for this stunning first novel that entwines the fate of three remarkable characters: Sardarji, a wealthy Sikh landowner whose heart is in India, but whose head is in England; Satya, his constantly scheming, feisty wife who lives for her husband but cannot give him children; and Roop, Sardarji's second, much younger wife, married for the express purpose of providing the family with an heir. Intensely atmospheric, the novel contains lyrical descriptions of daily life in a village with dusty fields of maize and clusters of homes; the cinnamon, anise and fennel smell of Satya's kitchen; Sardarji's Oxfordian attire and his spindly-legged English furniture. Baldwin, who grew up in India, skillfully creates an exotic milieu where women are sheltered from the outside world and struggle for influence over their families. As headstrong Satya, more involved in her husband's affairs than most of her peers, and demure Roop, trained to exercise traditional feminine wiles, battle for Sardarji's favor and the children Roop soon produces, Sardarji is increasingly distracted by the furor over independence and the future of the Indian state. Baldwin achieves an artistic triumph on two levels, capturing the churning political and religious history of modern India and Pakistan as she explores memorable transformations: of Satya, from a dominating force in her family to a lonely outsider; of Sardarji, from an idealistic, ambitious engineer to a hardened, more realistic civil servant; and finally, of Roop, from an arrogant, self-centered daughter to a selfless wife and mother who becomes the backbone of her family. 6-city author tour; simultaneous publication in the U.K. and Canada; rights sold in Germany, Italy, France. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is interesting because it deals with both of these subjects and from the perspective of two Sikh women. I have many Indian friends and know a little of Hindu and Moslem culture but of Sikhism I was ignorant and this novel has been a ssuperb introduction. The story focuses to a large extent upon the experiences of Satya and Roop, married to the same man. Both of their lives and their happiness are dependent on his and it is interesting to see how the two women manage to carve their own niches within this restriction.
Major themes of this book are jealousy and fear. The fear of men, the fear of one's own body, the fear of strangers and of other religions. Jealousy and avarice too. The opening scene embodies all of these emotions as Satya inspects the young Roop, newly arrived at her husband's home wearing Satya's jewellry. It is a fantastically written introduction. However, despite his insensitivity and self-centredness, one of the wonderful things about this novel is observing the gradual transformation of Sardiji, a traditional and dominant male figure at the beginning of the novel into a thoughtful and generous one at the end. His political and personal journey is directly attributable to the influence, and destinies, of his wives.
This book is not at all formulaic and is a worthy addition to the canon of modern Indian literature. I have read many of these books and, as recommended by another reviewer, this is the best novel about India I have read since A Suitable Boy.
For context, my other favourite books are Of Human Bondage by William Somerset-Maugham, and Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk.
What the Body Remebers swallowed me whole, treated me to another perspective and opened my eyes wider yet. I had to buy it and add it to my collection of stories about strong women in awful situations. Old stories like Coming Home (Rosamunde Pilcher) and new stories like Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb) & Rush Home Road (Lori Lansens).
We cannot help but appreciate the crazy lives we live here in the western world after reading of Roop and Satya's lives. We grew up with things like choice, dignity & opportunity.
Read it, if you dare ladies and gentleman. You will not be the same when you finish the last page.
Most recent customer reviews
Revolving around two wives and a rich land owner, this sprawling saga takes place during India's partition. Read morePublished on Aug. 15 2004
What the Body Remembers falls into the genre known among my friends and I as "awful/wonderful." "Awful/wonderful" books tell painful truths in such a compelling... Read morePublished on Aug. 10 2001 by Marcy A. Sheiner
I came across this book quite by accident! I loved the cover.......and though one should not judge a book by its cover.....I was pleasently surprised.. for the most part... Read morePublished on July 6 2001 by SHAIROSE
Three attempts at reading this book have failed; it's hard to get beyond a certain point. It's undeniably clever (i.e. Read morePublished on April 26 2001 by janet vogelzang