Thursday, August 14, 2014

Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur

Set against the tumult of the 1947 Partition, Manju Kapur’s acclaimed first novel captures a life torn between family, desire, and love

The one thing I had wanted was not to be like my mother.

Virmati is the eldest of eleven children, born to a respectable family in Amritsar. Her world is shaken when she falls in love with a married man. Charismatic Harish is a respected professor and her family’s tenant. Virmati takes up with Harish and finds herself living alongside his first wife.

Set in Amritsar and Lahore and narrated by Virmati and her daughter, Ida, a divorcĂ©e on a quest to understand and connect with her departed mother, Difficult Daughters is a stunning tale of motherhood, love, and finding one’s identity in a nation struggling to discover its own.

Winner of the 1999 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book (Eurasia Region) and shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in India.


Difficult Daughters is a novel that sweeps you into a world where a young modern girl struggles against traditional values to forge a fulfilling life for herself. With strong dreams to be educated, Virmati falls in love with her new neighbor, an already married professor. Despite the struggles of her family to keep them apart, Virmati sacrifices everything so she can be with her beloved in their scandalous relationship. Her family turns against her and she finds herself alone, trying to hold her head high against societal normals. 

The story takes place in 1947 during a tumultuous period in India's history. Poignantly written and absorbing, I could not help but become absorbed and enchanted with a heroine who will risk all to be true to herself and forge a better path for women in her country. The plight of women trapped in stringent cultural norms is a strong theme throughout this lush novel. It is no surprise that this novel has won the prestigious Commonwealth Writer's Prize. My only concern was there was an overabundance of Indian words describing clothing and various items for which no glossary was provided, and which pulled me out of the story. This was especially evident in the earlier chapters and faded gradually as the story progressed. Despite this, readers should persevere, for the story is truly engaging and worth reading. Definitely recommended.  

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