Monday, August 18, 2008

The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal - 336 pgs

Book CoverWhen Isha Tilak discovers that she is carrying a girl child in her womb, she fears the repercussions from her in-laws. Traditionally in India, the eldest male child and his family live with his parents, and must adhere to their rules and demands. Though her husband Nikhil is supportive about the pregnancy, he also knows that his parents will not bear this discovery gracefully. The couple, who already have one daughter, soon begin to feel the pressure as Nikhil's parents want them to abort the fetus. Isha is aware of the practice of selective abortion, yet never believes it will touch her life. The practice, clothed in secrecy, is suggested to the them by the older couple, who believe that only male children will continue the family legacy and carry the family name into the next generation. Like many Indians, they look on female babies as bad luck and useless mouths to feed. When the family's doctor asks Isha and Nikhil if they wish to abort the child, they vehemently refuse. Then Nikhil is killed under strange circumstances, leaving Isha to fight alone against her family's demands. With the pressure of the forced abortion mounting daily, Isha must find a way to give birth to the daughter that Nikhil will never see. Into this mix comes an unexpected stranger who can not only save Isha, but also help her get to the root of her husband's death, and might even give her a new start at life. Along the way, Isha discovers a shocking secret that will put those who she cares about in serious danger, and she must fight for the courage to expose a ruthless duo of men trying to protect their clandestine activities.

Until reading this book, I had no idea of the magnitude of selective abortion in India. The author does a wonderful job of relating this problem in her story, while still being able to create a rich tale that encompasses duty, forgiveness and love. Though the characters in this story are somewhat modern Indians, they still harbor the more traditional Indian ideals, using the advanced technology such as ultrasound to further their gender goals. I found the entire process of gender specific abortion hard to swallow, and cheered Isha on in her attempts to make her family understand the societal implications as well as the moral significance of their actions. I admired Isha's character as a strong and intelligent woman who never yields to the outside pressure of her family. Her struggle for independence after Nikhil's death takes her character through a series of complex and difficult emotions. The love she has for her children is the unyielding root of this story, and many times she made some very hard choices in order to keep them safe and secure. This story had the additional component of a love story that was unexpected and welcome. While Isha struggled to remain faithful to her husband's memory, she could not ignore the romantic feelings that were brewing inside of her, and continued to act admirably. Although I liked the character of Isha, I found her in-laws to be despicable. They were controlling and domineering and made life for Isha and the children extremely difficult. They both were very negative people who seemed to only care for their narrow-minded beliefs, and went to absurd lengths to attain their goals. It was eye-opening to discover that some women in India have to live in such rigid and oppressive home situations.

This was a book that was hard to pin down to any specific genre. It was by turns a drama, a love story, and, atypically a thriller. I found the various styles in the book moved very fluidly and the story seemed well rounded. It was an interesting view into the social climate of today's India, and the societal pressure that many women are faced with to produce male offspring. In a note appending the book, the author goes into detail regarding the staggering number of selective abortions performed in the past two decades. This book, in addition to being a well developed story, was also a way for the author to make a social statement about this illegal and immoral practice. I believe she achieved both beautifully.


Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read this book ... it is on "my list!"

I enjoy a variety of genre, but I really love a book that makes me think and stays with me for a while; it sounds like *The Forbidden Daughter* fits the bill!

Library Cat said...

This sounds like a fascinating book - I am always drawn to multicultural explorations of humanity.
Thank you for the wonderful review.

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