Some writers have obviously occupied the place they’re writing about. Mick Canning is one such. The immersive depth of settings in this book is so great that the reader feels like a resident.
But this book is primarily about injustice and casual cruelty to women in India. That this is a traditional aspect of life is also made clear in this account written from the point of view of a wife and mother trapped by her background and circumstances. That’s not to say there’s no lightness or humour, but this is a story exposing deeply damaging cultural customs and attitudes that demean women and deny them their natural rights as human beings.
Set in a small village, one of maybe a million such communities on the sub-continent, this short novel is bursting with atmosphere and humanity. The writer inhabits the very soul of his narrator, expressing her self-doubts, her familial concerns, her cultural misgivings, without ever making her strident or condemnatory. The reader is taken on a journey that reaches an end as inevitable as it is saddening. Along the route, insights into a culture often unaffected by religious differences are exposed and examined. The reader is forced to confront awkward questions about the selfishness and duplicity of the male in such societies. As a westerner, it’s tempting to feel superior about cultural acceptance of the equality of women, but there’s a warning here about how shallow such concerns lie beneath the veneer of civilisation.
This is a novel with depth and real emotional involvement. Told simply and with an honesty that defies disbelief at events and attitudes, it packs some serious punches. It’s a story that will live with me for a long time, and one that has materially altered my opinions about certain cultural norms. Researched in real depth and related in language that fits the narrator so well, it’s a very good read. I shall be looking out for more from this author.