Reviewing this book seems timely after International Women’s Day on March 8. It tells the extraordinary tales of ordinary women scattered throughout India. It does so by thoroughly examining traditions and conscientiously telling women’s stories. The preamble is almost apologetic, as Bumiller confesses that she initially did not intend to write a book about “women’s issues” but she found that the stories of the women she came across touched her the deepest. She writes about the diversity of Indian women and acknowledges that she couldn’t possibly include every kind of Indian woman in her book.
It is extremely well written, fluid and logically structured. Most importantly, it is tactful and sensitive to the complexity and contradictions of Indian life. Rather than depicting Indian women as some type of victim of their society she shines a light on the ways in which a woman’s life experiences can be simultaneously individual and universal.
It is definitely a read that will pull at your heartstrings. Perhaps the most devastating were the stories of families who felt they had no choice but to kill their infant daughters because they could not afford her dowry. This book examines a topic that caused something of a personal moral dilemma for me. Namely, the conflict between wanting to uphold a woman’s freedom to choose abortion while strongly condemning the abuse of procedures such as amniocentesis to identify and then abort female fetuses.
It also considers parts of India in which a woman’s place in society has traditionally been better. That is, in Kerala where women are much more likely to be literate, have many more job opportunities and tend to marry at a later age.
While Bullimer’s feminist zeal can occasionally seep into her writing into what may be interpreted as a bias, her desire to understand rather than judge is easy to pick up on throughout her lucid writing. It is this desire and the subtle reflective tone with which she writes that makes this book such a compelling read.
Ultimately this book is engaging, factually accurate, respectful and well-written. However, the nature and genre of the book, while intriguing, isn’t the kind of thrilling that means you can’t put it down. That said, I read it overnight and recommend it highly to anyone interested in Indian history, society or women.
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