Monday, 17 May 2010

Book Review: The Forbidden Daughter

the-forbidden-daughter The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

Category: Fiction

Challenges: South Asian Author Challenge, 2010 Challenge (Win! Win!), Women Unbound, POC Challenge

Synopsis: Isha and her husband Nikhil are expecting their second child. When an ultrasound reveals that the child is a girl, just like their older daughter, Isha’s in-laws start pressing the young couple to have an abortion. When Nikhil dies under mysterious circumstances tension between Isha and the in-laws reach breaking point and she must make decisions to protect her girls.

My Thoughts: Books or discussions about selective abortion never fail to get me riled up. Although I am staunchly pro-choice I believe that every abortion is a tragedy. I find it especially repugnant when abortions are done on basis of gender, no matter what that gender is. I thought the book dealt very well with the arguments used both for (weak as they are) and against gender selective abortions. It shows how people who can appear to be one thing are really something else entirely.

Gender selection is perhaps the main theme of the book, however, another strong theme is relationships and when we choose to lean on those with whom we have relationships. Isha, the main character in the book, loses her husband to, what appears to be a senseless act of violence. This causes her already tenuous relationship with her in-laws to break down completely. Alone in the world with one small child and another one on the way she seeks refuge with the nuns in town. Here is where I start having problems with parts of the story. Isha is perfectly happy accepting the help from the nuns, but she is initially resistant to accept it from both her sister-in-law and from the doctor she meets, except she isn’t really. These instances of reluctance seem to be present to portray Isha as both independent and unwilling to accept charity. For me there is nothing wrong with accepting charity when you need it, which Isha clearly did. But her initial reluctance followed by quick acceptance felt forced and contrived.

I got the same feelings from the conclusion of the story. I don’t want to spoil but I will say that the ending felt like Bantwal went, “oh dear I can solve this problem by doing this but it doesn’t solve this one, and really I must have some excitement…” For me she could have left of the excitement she chose. There was plenty of it anyway and it introduced a new character far to late in the story and to me, honestly made it seem a bit like a bad soap opera.

What I did enjoy was the growing relationship between Isha and the doctor. It was sweet and touched upon some interesting ideas regarding moving on when you lose a spouse. It presented some of the cultural aspects of arranged marriages that I had little understanding of in an easy to understand way.

In addition to this Isha overall comes across as a strong character. She stands up to her in-laws when they abuse her daughter. She works hard to provide for her daughters, she feels a sense of duty to those whose lives she matters in.

The subject matter of selective abortion touched me, the story in the book felt rather pedestrian. I felt that parts were rushed, came out of left field and the characters were rather flat. I would have like to get to know Isha better. But it felt like it jumped from crises to crises without any depth.

Overall I did like the book. It was a quick, entertaining read with a very important main subject matter. I felt the story itself could have been a bit better told.

Purchase The Forbidden Daughter from BookDepository


Copyright ©2010 Zee from Notes from the North.clip_image001This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.


Anonymous said...

I recently read a book on abortion because of the baby being a girl and I feel it is a subject worthy of more attention. I can imagine that a story might focus a bit too much on the issues and that the actual story itself could've done with some more detailed work. On that part, you almost wrote the review of that particular book for me, because it was exactly how I felt about the book I read.

Aarti said...

I can see how a book of this sort is more a vehicle for a message than a story that can stand up on its own. I guess some people only learn about such situations from novels, and so there is probably a lot to pack into novels BESIDES a story. All the same, I think I'll skip this one. I do like real stories in my novels.

Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

I read this book a few months ago and really enjoyed it (in a "I was entertained" kind of way, not so much that it provoked a whole lot of thought). I kind of saw it as more about the plight of women in general in that part of Indian society and Isha's determination to make it on her own (of which selective abortion is only one part of the story). The Sari Shop Widow is on my TBR list...we'll see how that one compares. :)

Ana said...


This was an excellent choice –the book. And you wrote a very good review. Yes, each abortion is indeed a tragedy (even though I am pro-choice as well). I must read it, even though it may not be the best story that can be told in the matter - the subject is most important.