Rai’s novel takes readers to an India where women are little more than a commodity and burden and life is a daily struggle.
Mamta is old to be marrying. At 20, with a disfiguring facial birthmark, she has known nothing but deprivation and scorn her entire life. Her father hates her so much that once she became betrothed, he ordered her mother to feed her only enough to keep her alive. Her conception brings back only pain and bitter memories to her mother. Mamta remembers nothing but deep poverty in the rural village where she has lived since birth. But all of that changes for her, or at least she hopes it will change, when she is finally to be married. In her part of India, where most girls are symbolically wed at age 8 and taken to the marriage bed as soon as they start menstruating, Mamta is an oddity. She has dreamt about the day her prince will come for her on a fine horse, but when he does show up, he is anything but a prince. Like the other men in her life, her new husband is no bargain. When Mamta dons her red wedding dress for the ceremony, she discovers she has traded one terrible life for another. Soon, she is given a choice and she makes it, but that decision only haunts her over the coming years. Rai, a journalist, writes with deep understanding of the poverty and pain of women whose lives are literally at the mercy of men. Although she is skilled, she also tends to be longwinded and her story meanders, leaving the reader wondering what one passage has to do with other. She has also populated her tale with a dizzying amount of characters: Readers will have to stay on their toes to sort them out.
Relentlessly depressing and grim, Rai’s book offers an array of unlikable characters against a backdrop that would make Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm grab a bottle of antidepressants.