“A girl is a burden. A girl is a curse.”
These are the words that the first page of The Daughters of Madurai starts with. Powerful, deep, important words that lead us on an incredible journey throughout this book.
I first came across The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar on social media. I was instantly drawn to it, primarily because of the name. Being half Tamil, seeing the name Madurai – a city in Tamilnadu – in the title of a mainstream novel made me curious. After reading the synopsis, I immediately ordered the book and had it delivered to me within a few days.
As I now put the book down, I have a lot of thoughts swirling in my head and emotions rolling deep in me.
To start off, this book speaks about a lot of things prevalent in South Asian culture: caste, abusive marriage, domestic violence, and, most importantly, female foeticide and infanticide. It’s no secret that to this day, women are told to have a male child. They are told that having a girl is useless. This is still the case to the extent that in India, doctors and other hospital staff are not allowed to disclose the gender of a child. This is due to the fear that, if it is a girl child, both the baby and the mother will have their lives put at risk.
I want to start by talking about the things I loved about this book.
First, Janani. Janani, as a character, is so incredible, so strong, and someone that I wish existed outside of just a novel. But, of course, she does in a way. The strength and fearlessness we see in her throughout the book, we see parts of that in our mothers and grandmothers. Even if they haven’t all gone through the same hardships, those qualities still exist in them all.
Second, Sanjay. After a long time, we see a male protagonist who isn’t afraid to be soft, tender, and caring. There’s no toxic masculinity or need to constantly show his strength. Rather, we see Sanjay in different life stages – a young boy, a man, and finally, as a father and husband – and in every stage, the writer shows us wonderful qualities in him.
Third, as stated by the two things I mentioned in the paragraphs above – I absolutely loved the way the flashback was written. This story is set in two places: Madurai in 1993 and Madurai in 2019. The 1993 flashbacks are shown in such a way that coming out of this book, I myself feel like I’ve learned so much about what things were like back then. It’s also built up in a way that slowly but steadily reveals how we’ve gotten to where we are in the Madurai 2019 chapters.
Finally, I love that The Daughters of Madurai speaks on such an important topic.
Female foeticide and infanticide are horrific things that millions see happening in their families. It’s a hard topic to talk about, a very sad one. But I’m glad we’re bringing it up and talking about it. There are too many girls out there who are killed constantly simply for how they’re born, simply for daring to try and exist. So many girls who deserved a better life.
To get back to the story, there are things I wish were written better. I wish we learned more about Nila as a person. It also would’ve been nice to learn more about Sanjay and Janani’s relationship, This builds up but then suddenly plateaus towards the end. I also feel like Nila’s “secret” is very obvious to the readers from the beginning. This part of the story could’ve had more background to allow readers to connect with it more.
Nevertheless, I absolutely loved this book. I will give everyone one warning: it’s not an easy read. There are a lot of tough and potentially triggering topics that we see in The Daughters of Madurai. However, I promise you, it’s worth the read.