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Memoirs of a young Indian woman who writes matter-of-factly of a life of neglect, abuse, poverty, hardship and hard work.

Halder, a domestic worker near Delhi, began to chronicle her life story when her employer, retired academic Prabodh Kumar, gave her a pen and notebook and told her to start. He translated her memoirs from her native Bengali into Hindi, edited them and arranged for their publication in India. The present translation into English leaves much to be desired. Too many words—“mela,” “panchayat,” “paan,” aanchal,” “charpai”—are left untranslated, and terms that designate relationships rather than personal names are capitalized, making the reader’s grasp of the large cast of characters unnecessarily difficult. Halder’s story is a bleak one: Her mother abandoned the family when she was four; her father married her off to an illiterate, abusive man nearly twice her age when she was not yet 13; and she bore her first child before she was 14. Halder lived in constant fear of her husband’s beatings and frequently fled to the home of relatives, where she was sometimes welcomed, sometimes not. She learned that her older sister had been strangled by her husband, and once her own husband split open her head after seeing her speak to a man. At age 29, she fled with her three children to the city. She eventually landed in the household of Prabodh Kumar, who was kind to her and her children. Halder tells of years of suffering in the first person, but occasionally shifts into the third, perhaps because a particular memory is too emotionally charged. The stoicism with which she accepts her lot in the early years gradually changes as she matures.

A memorable portrait, more painful than refined, of life among the poor in present-day India.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-06-125581-6
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: HC/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2007