“Yours will be a female child who will bring light and abundance to the people around her.” These startling words from a holy man are the start of Isha’s journey from darkness to light. Happily married, Isha and her husband Nikhil are expecting their second child. During a visit with their doctor, he reveals that their baby will be a second girl, and offers to perform an abortion, to rid them of what must be an unwanted daughter. Isha and Nikhil are both shocked, and quickly turn down his offer. Much to their surprise, when they share the news with Nikhil’s parents, the proper Brahmin couple also encourage them to abort the child. When Nikhil is found dead a short time later under mysterious circumstances, Isha is at the mercy of her in-laws, who continue to place enormous pressure on her to have an abortion. When they begin to refer to her children as the reason their son was killed, Isha knows she has to get out.
Taking a tremendous risk, Isha, alone and nearly ready to have her baby, takes her daughter, Priya, and moves out of her in-laws’ home. She finds shelter in a convent, where she is given food and lodging in exchange for teaching in the convent school. In short time, her second daughter, Diya, is born. Harish Salvi, a local doctor who gives care to the orphans at the convent, is visiting his patients there when he is asked to check on the new baby. He recognizes Isha, and is immediately drawn by her plight. Deciding to help her if he can, he offers his services, both as a doctor and a friend. As their friendship grows, so does Isha’s independence. Soon she is living in her own flat, and sewing clothing for the wealthy ladies of her village. When questions arise about Nihkil’s death, however, she realizes she and her children might be in danger. As the dangerous man who killed her husband gets closer and closer, she must do whatever it takes to keep herself, and her daughters, safe from harm.
Shobhan Bantwal has written a fascinating book in The Forbidden Daughter. What could be a fairly predictable story about finding a new life after loss is completely enhanced by close examination of contemporary Indian culture. In the author’s note, Bantwal quotes a British medical journal study that reports that nearly 10 million female fetusus have been aborted in India in the past two decades alone. While many readers are aware of the status of male children in Chinese culture, the same situation in India receives less attention. Bantwal does an excellent job of describing the pressures mothers in this society are placed under to produce males, and the damage done to female children, long into adulthood, by the obvious preference for sons.
Bantwal’s actual writing is somewhat average, but her clear understanding of the culture about which she writes makes the situations come alive on the page. Her characters are likable enough, and she certainly allows the reader to feel sympathy for Isha as she fights for a better life for her children. Some readers may feel like the story would be better for more development, as sometimes the plot can seem a bit forced in order to achieve the desired outcome. In general, however, this book is recommended as an intriguing look into another culture, and an eye-opening report of the societal pressures faced by women today.
The Forbidden Daughter was published by Kensington on August 26, 2008
Reviewed by: Elizabeth