Sunday 26 February 2023

Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

    The days are racing past so quickly that I am losing all sense of time.  We have the library’s Book Club on the forth Thursday of every month.  This month we were to pick out a novel by a “foreign” author.  I downloaded and read Sister of My Heart by Indian author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  Having read the book I then lost track of what day it was and missed the Book Club, but here is a review of the novel.

This novel which takes place in the present, it is about the intense bond of two girls, born on the same day and raised as cousins in the same Calcutta household by their mothers.  The girls, Sudha and Anji also have another similarity, they were born when their fathers were away on a ruby-finding adventure which led to their disappearance.  The two girls were raised by their mothers, who without their spouses, had to struggle economically to maintain their large old house and their high rank.

Bijoy, Anji’s father came from an upper caste family who owned a bookstore in Calcutta.  Sudha’s father grew up poor in a village, but arrived at Bijoy’s large Calcutta house with his wife, claiming that he was the cousin of family.  They were accepted as such, and allowed to live at Bijoy’s house as part of the family.  The two girls, when they were born, grew up together, in the rather restrictive environment, (because they were female) which was enforced by their two mothers.  They both longed and dreamed for more freedom.

Shortly before graduating from a Catholic High School, Sudha secretly learned, her dead father had been a fraud and was not really a relation to the family where she lived and grew up as a cousin.  This secret and the fact that her father was also responsible for initiating the jungle expedition to find rubies where he and Bijoy died, filled her with guilt.

Anji dreamed of travel and a university education in literature, while Sudha was more interested in being a mother.  Just before graduation, Sudha met a handsome kind boy when the two girls uncharacteristically skipped school and went to the cinema.  Sudha knew he was the one she wanted to marry.  

Unfortunately, the dreams of the two girls changed when, Anji’s mother, who ran the struggling bookstore had a sudden stroke and could no longer work.  She sought to quickly have the two girls married off before she died.  This threw the dreams of the two girls into jeopardy, because the Indian cultural practice of arranged marriage kicked in.  

Fortunately for Anji, she liked the boy she was forced to marry.  He had been working as a computer programmer in America, and Anji, looked forward to living there, once he promised her she could go to university.   Sudha, however was not so lucky.  The boy she loved, was not considered suitable by her mother, and instead she had to marry an unattractive railroad engineer, who had a domineering mother.  

I will leave the story at that point, but will say that Indian culture’s intense desire for a male offspring further complicates the future of these two girls, now separated by the Atlantic Ocean, as they both fight to realize their childhood dreams.

I really enjoyed the book, the struggles of these two cousins, and descriptions of Indian culture.  My one criticism was that as I was nearing the ending, I turned the page, and found it WAS the end.   I was expecting the story to continue a bit further.

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