What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin is one of my favorite books of all time! I wish I had read this book sooner. It took me almost eight weeks to finish the book; I read in intervals because I had to take detours to complete other reading commitments. I wrote about reading the book for five Sunday Salon posts.
The book centers around three main characters: Roop, who at the age of sixteen, becomes a second wife to a rich landowner; Satya the landowner's first wife who is childless and struggles to maintain her status when a new woman comes into her world and begins to have children; Sadarji is a rising man in the Indian Irrigation department.
For most of the book, my favorite character was Satya. She was so strong and fearless. I love how she questioned the gap between the intention of Sikhs to treat women as equals and the reality of women not being valued or treated the same as men. The following passage is such a good example of how Satya's wishes express the struggle between the reality and her wishes for it:
Surely, there will come a time when just being can bring izzat in return, when a woman will be allowed to choose her owner, when a woman will not be owned, when love will be enough payment for marriage, children or no children, just because her shakti takes shape and walks the world again. What she wants is really that simple.
Towards the end of the book, all of the characters worlds are rocked by the religious divisions between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims which intensify as the departing British prepare to divide the land into India and Pakistan.
During this period, I especially appreciated the growth in Roop. She goes from being timid to finally finding her voice and having the courage to stand alone. Throughout the book, I really HATED Sardarji. On some level, I could sympathize with is struggle to rise in the British government that was in India. However, I felt so angry with him for how he treated Satya and I did not fully understand or appreciate his need to take a second wife. Towards the end of the book, there is a powerful scene at a train station in which the iciness in my heart for Sadarji began to defrost.
Another thing I appreciated the book is how all three characters are devout Sikhs and yet manage to question and embody the principles of Sikhism in their own ways. The author conducts an interview which discusses more about the characters she creates, her writing process, and the voice of women in the fiction and the non-fiction realm. I look forward to reading more about the author in the future.
I read this book for two challenges: