DAUGHTERS OF THE HOUSE by Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen


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The author's first US publication: a breezily subversive challenge to patriarchal India. The rural area where 18-year-old narrator Chchanda grows up is an unconventional one. The rich ""vote left, as if to excuse themselves for existing, and the poor...vote for the ruling party, as if to maintain their shabby honor""; the region is home to retired Anglo-Indians, tribal converts to Christianity, a few middle-and upper-class Hindu Bengalis: the sons head to Calcutta, while the unmarried daughters remain behind, uncharacteristically free. Chchanda's household is female-headed because of death, desertion, and a family propensity to conceive only girls. She, sister Mala, aunt Madhulika, and Christian servant Parvati (whose income from a government settlement largely supports them all) seem perfectly happy; but when Madhulika, at age 45, suddenly brings home a husband, the idyll is threatened even though the bridegroom, Pratap, responds to hostility with grace and financial generosity. But...is Madhulika really pregnant, or suffering from a fatal disease? Is the changing relationship between Pratap and teenaged Chchanda rape and incest, or is it love? Will Chchanda discover sexual passion or ""how parasitical a man can seem, clinging to us in his silly climax like a misshapen orchid in the crotch of some jungle tree""? Will Pratap become the true head of the household, or is a new female dynasty in the making? Aikath-Gyaltsen provides lavish details of Indian culture while her feminism takes an unfamiliar tack: instead of outrage at horrors (suttee, dowry-burning), a cheerful celebration of a world in which men are not all-powerful but dispensable.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0345386558
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Ballantine