In a place and time when arranged marriages are the norm, when a dowry can put families in a huge amount of debt, when a husband can find a new wife should his current wife not bare him a son, when daughters are considered ‘mistakes’ and are expected to marry, keep house, and produce sons, Anu and Damini find the strength and courage to persevere.
My latest Random House read is The Selector of Souls by Shauna Singh Baldwin.
Before this novel I had never read anything by Shauna Singh Baldwin and I am glad that I gave her a chance. They way she moulds and blends two stories of two different women, while keeping in mind the history of which the story springs is flawless.
So, the ultimate question, do I love this novel? In all honesty it hasn’t found its way into my top five favourite books list but there were a lot of things that I liked about it, starting with the main characters. I found is easy to fall in love with Anu and her will to change her life when many other women in her position wouldn’t have dared. It was a little harder for me to sympathize with Damini, a women who seemed torn by what is ‘right’ and what is tradition. I learned a lot from both women but I found Anu’s perseverance most enlightening. Perhaps my favourite quote from this novel is said by Anu after she makes a life-altering decision, one that her family does not understand.
“I could live to be a hundred and never meet everyone’s expectations, Aunty,” (page 166).
How true that is. Although I have never had to struggle with the kind of hardships the women in this novel had to, I understand what it’s like to be afraid that you won’t meet the expectations that people have set for you. I also understand the courage it takes to do something that most people would scorn you for. Because of that I am truly glad I read this novel.
I will warn you that I struggled a little with this one, I found some parts a little slow (granted the novel is over 500 pages so one is expected to read a little slow) but I knew I had to stick it out. Part of my struggle with the novel had to do with a feeling of guilt that loomed inside me. I have never felt unwanted or as if I was a mistake. I have never had to deal with physical or emotional abuse and the fear that consumes you. I couldn’t imagine switching places with any girl or woman in this novel.
Although the guilt subsided and I eventually let the story take me over, I will never forget what I learned from the women in this novel. I will be more conscious of how lucky I am to be a woman who is treated with love and respect.
Synopsis (from the Random House of Canada Limited website)
The Selector of Souls begins with a scene that is terrifying, harrowing and yet strangely tender: we’re in the mid ranges of the Himalayas as a young woman gives birth to her third child with the help of her mother, Damini. The birth brings no joy, just a horrible accounting, and the act that follows—the huge sacrifice made by Damini out of love of her daughter—haunts the novel.
In Shauna Singh Baldwin’s enthralling novel, two fascinating, strong-willed women must deal with the relentless logic forced upon them by survival: Damini, a Hindu midwife, and Anu, who flees an abusive marriage for the sanctuary of the Catholic church. When Sister Anu comes to Damini’s home village to open a clinic, their paths cross, and each are certain they are doing what’s best for women. What do health, justice, education and equality mean for women when India is marching toward prosperity, growth and becoming a nuclear power? If the baby girls and women around them are to survive, Damini and Anu must find creative ways to break with tradition and help this community change from within.