WHAT THE BODY REMEMBERS by Shauna Singh Baldwin


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A richly textured, often poetic story of one East Indian woman’s tumultuous personal fortunes as they develop against the backdrop of India’s independence. Growing up without a mother in a world in which myths are the only luxury, Roop, an ambivalent Sikh, dreams of escape. Her prayers seem answered when the Sikh Sardarji, a wealthy, Oxford-educated engineer working for the British, asks for her hand in marriage. Sardarji’s childless marriage to Satya has prompted him to seek a fertile second wife. But Satya, a sophisticated, well-mannered woman who resents the English intrusion on her homeland, is anguished by this attractive peasant rival from the village who has stolen Sardarji’s attentions. Long-suffering Satya is the spiritual core of India; Sardarji, clever, argumentative, and self-possessed, betrays her in an echo of his equivocations between his people and his admired superiors. Roop bears first a daughter, Pavan, who is given to Satya as an expendable misfortune, and then a son, Timcu. When Timcu is sent to Satya as well, Roop can take no more, and insists that Satya be exiled from the household. Her heart broken, Satya dies in 1943, as India is seething with tension between Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh factions. Ghandi rises to power, and the British yield India. Though the partition of Pakistan fuels talk of a —Sikhistan,— there is no homeland for Sikhs, and so Roop and Sardarji embark on an agonizing 100-page odyssey to Delhi and safety. Upon returning to her childhood home, Roop finds desolation and death—and the place from which she once ached to flee now lost to her. Newcomer Baldwin’s theme—the grueling uses to which women’s bodies and spirits are put, and their abuses at the hands of men—combines with the political analogue of India’s struggle for independence to produce a plush, sensuous drama. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-49604-4
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999


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