Publisher: Transworld Publishers
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‘ Sister of My Heart ’ is predominantly a book on female relationships. It explores the various facets of women- the good, the bad and the ugly. A refreshing change from most novels that depict men in the roles of hero and villain, most of the prominent characters in this novel are determined, strong women. It goes on to show the various faces that a woman can conceal behind a charming face, be it the iron-willed, breadwinning Gauri or the fiercely-loyal-to-her-clan, determined-to-have-a-male-heir Mrs. Sanyal.
But most importantly, it goes on to empathise with the plight of a woman in a patriarchal society, one which defined her worth in terms of whether she has a husband or not. The household in focus is a matriarchal one, with no men in it except the driver, Singhji. It’s a world ruled by the three mothers, or the ‘three goddesses’ as the young girls call them. The diverse characters depicted throughout the book reflect a Calcutta which is caught between the modern and the traditional.
For instance, there is Pishi, the girls’ aunt, an old child widow, who still sticks to the age-old traditions decreed by her forefathers and holds herself responsible for the death of her husband. Then there is Nalini, Sudha’s mother, the once-beautiful woman with a shameful past, who strives to cover it up and protect her daughter by spinning an elaborate web of lies. Anju, the contemporary woman whose favorite author is Virginia Woolfe, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and who has dreams of, one day, running her own bookstore. And lastly, there is Sudha, the docile, tractable and obedient daughter and daughter-in-law, who gives up everything she wants for the sake of her sister’s happiness. Such an eclectic mix of characters, and yet they blend into the narrative seamlessly, completely at home in the setting of the novel.
The main focus of the book though, is the evolving relationship between the two sisters, Anjali and Basudha. As children, they are inseparable, as teenagers, they are each others’ confidantes and partners-in-crime. As they grow older, however, their lives become complicated, first with the discovery of the family’s closet of skeletons; and then with the insistence of the mothers on their getting married, albeit for very different reasons.
This is a story about hopes and disappointments, of very contrary natures. The hopes of Anju when she finally meets a man whom she loves, of her dreams of freedom in a land far away from the restrictive atmosphere of Calcutta. Sudha’s hopes, of sacrificing her wishes in order to further Anju’s happiness, hopes of leading a tranquil, quiet life with no ups or downs. How all these desires are turned topsy turvy, and how the bond between the two girls acts as a two-way lifeline in the end, forms the crux of the story.
My personal favorite in the book was the subtle way in which the changing role of women in society was highlighted. The mix of characters depict various women which some of us might well have encountered in our daily lives. From an angle, it’s a book about the personal story of each woman and why she is the way she is.
Definitely one of the highlights of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s work, and noteworthy for its sensitive and accurate portrayal of how feminine relationships work.
The author’s page can be found at http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/.