Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: Daughters of the House

Here is my second book review as a part of the 2011 South Asian Challenge. I just completed reading "Daughters of the House" by Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen. This book was published in 1991 by Penguin, New Delhi and published later in the US.

The book is based near Netarhat, in present day Jharkhand (erstwhile Bihar). It is the story of women, about women, by a woman. It is about the eternal lives of women, in which men come and men go, barely creating a ripple in intensely feminine lives. And then, along comes a man who creates not only ripples, but rents and shreds and tears asunder- worlds, hymens, lives. And goes away again, his part played. The worlds, hymens and lives fuse together again, forming another impenetrable feminine world. Waiting for yet another man...

The book is written through a haze of pain- or so it comes across. The narrator is a young eighteen year old girl, Madhuchchanda, insular, stubborn and sometimes, plain weird. She lives with her Madhulika Mausi (Aunt), younger sister Mala and devoted controlling female maid Parvati. An all-female household that has always been like this (her father was there for two years of marriage then left after begetting two daughters). Their relationships are a mixture of control, affection and desperation. One can sometimes smell the man-deprivation and desire of the forty-two year old Mausi. Who gets what she wants and then loses it spectacularly to her own niece. A man!

It is at times hard to like the protagonist, as she goes about plotting and scheming how to ruin her Mausi's marriage. And of course, finds the perfect way- sleep with the man herself. It is not exactly clear what happens and how- is the young girl just male-deprived (she is), does she plan this, does the older man seduce her (doesn't seem like it), is she doing this because she hates him, is she doing it to get some sort of control, or is it just lust on both sides? It is a little difficult to analyze the reasons, and but of course it is obvious right from the beginning that this is what is going to happen. Good, old-fashioned incest. Control. Revenge. Lust. Everything that is female.

It is a painful confusing book. No neat ends, no happily ever afters... unless you count the protagonist giving birth to her daughter... renewing the cycle of femininity. The tie of strongest affection in the book is with the house. The house where they all live. Which comes before love and joy and lust and pain. The house that moralizes and condemns and forgives (or not). Yes, this book is indeed about daughters of the "house".

So did I like it? Not too much. Its a confusing book, with the constant undercurrent of pain. Pain swells and pain subsides, but it pains all the time. That's the book for you. Not painful in reading (don't get me wrong there), but pain drips from the written word. Pain and confusion and lust and desire and hate and sorrow and lust that can intermingle only in the mind and heart of women. And still make sense!


Swapna said...

Hmm...I'm thinking this one might be a little too difficult/painful for me, especially with the lack of a happy ending. Sounds like an interesting book though!

Rachna said...

@Swapna- Yes, it was definitely painful to read! Wish I could get my hands on your booklist though- how do you get the latest published South asian books to read? I have to make do with the local library.

Agnija said...

Random surfing led me to your blog. The book seems rather claustrophobic. Probably not a book for me. Nice review, though.

Pesto Sauce said...

Not many review old books but still good to read your words. I am already curious about the pain depicted and shades of evil in female characters