Biology looms as destiny, then becomes a spur to freedom and accomplishment in the Canadian YA author’s heartfelt second adult historical (after The Linnet Bird, 2005).
It’s a carefully researched portrayal of three 19th-century cultures, centered in the figure of its narrator, Daryâ, a young Muslim woman we first encounter in her tribal village in Afghanistan. Exhibiting both high spirits and a hunger for “forbidden” knowledge (she furtively reads her father’s copy of the Qur’an), Daryâ incurs the anger of her domineering father, and is further oppressed by the new wife (Sulima), whom he takes when her mother fails to bear him a son. And when Daryâ finds Sulima in the embrace of another man, her irate stepmother pronounces a curse of barrenness on the girl. Her father sells her to a nomadic tribe, whereupon she becomes the abused wife of a haughty chieftain’s son, Shaliq. It seems she’ll never fulfill the independent destiny toward which her late grandmother Mâdar Kalân (the only strong woman Daryâ has ever known) had pointed her. The best sections here are in these potently detailed early chapters, succeeded by Daryâ’s escape from Shaliq, passage to India (Bombay) accompanied by mild-mannered Englishman David Ingram, who, for reasons of his own, cannot be the man she desires and needs, and thence—as the traveling companion of an exploiter (“Mr. Bull”) who might have come out of a Dickens novel—to Victorian London, which is itself something less than a nirvana for a woman alone. The choice of Daryâ as narrator provides needed unity and elicits reader empathy, but limits Holeman’s somewhat oblique presentation of cultural inequities and ironies. Still, her heroine’s tale is a stirring and exemplary one, and the novel seems a natural for reading groups.
Oprah’s audience might very well enjoy and admire this one.