‘A girl is a burden. A girl is a curse.’
– The Daughters Of Madurai
[ About The Daughters of Madurai ]
Madurai, 1992. A young mother in a poor family, Janani is told she is useless if she can’t produce a son – or worse, bears daughters they can’t afford. They let her keep her first baby girl but the rest are taken away as soon as they are born. The fate of her children has never been in her hands. But Janani can’t forget the daughters who weren’t allowed to live.
Sydney, 2019. Nila has a secret, one she’s been keeping from her parents for far too long. Before she can say anything, her grandfather in India falls ill and she agrees to join her parents on a trip to Madurai – the first in over ten years. Growing up in Australia, Nila knows very little about where she or her family came from, or who they left behind. What she’s about to learn will change her forever…
[ My Review ]
The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar publishes today, April 27th, with Orion Books and is described as a ‘heart-wrenching, thought-provoking book club debut’. Inspired by the horrific stories of female infanticide, Rajasree Variyar spent time at grass-roots level with a charity in Madurai. This charity was working to eliminate this barbaric act by educating and empowering the local community from a young age. After her experiences there, Rajasree Variyar took what she had witnessed first hand and created this emotive debut that highlights a mother’s heart-breaking fight for her unborn daughter.
Before I started reading The Daughters of Madurai, I was expecting a work of historical fiction from some time ago so it was a complete shock to see that the story begins in 2019 with a dual timeline of 1992. It’s impossible to understand how such heinous behaviour was acceptable in such recent times and it is so very shocking and upsetting to imagine the trauma and the damage done to the women involved and their new-born baby daughters. The Daughters of Madurai is the story of Janani and Nila and, although fictional, is loosely based on fact making it a powerful tribute to all those brave and terribly mistreated women.
Janani had been unable to conceive a boy in a town where baby girls were considered useless and a drain on the household’s already struggling budget. Her mother-in-law was a spiteful and hard-hearted woman who spared no sympathy for Janani’s plight. She saw it as a failure that Janani was unable to provide her with a grandson.
‘A girl is a burden. A girl is a curse.’
Nila was raised in Sydney to loving parents. Now in her twenties, she still knows very little about the early life of her mother and father. She has vague memories of her paternal grandfather in India, a man who spared little time for her, but she knows nothing about her mother’s side of the family. Both her parents left India, leaving everything behind them to create a new home in Australia where they could be free of the traditions and restrictions of their lives in India. Nila’s mother refuses to open up about her past, resigning it to the shadows where it belongs. Now Nila’s paternal grandfather is dying so the family must return to be by his bedside for those final days. Nila is highly conscious of the atmosphere in the household before their departure. There is a strain across her mother’s face but as Nila pokes for information, she is continuously stonewalled.
Nila is an independent woman but is carrying her own personal secret. She has something she knows she needs to tell her parents but is very unsure of how they will react. The upcoming trip to India might just offer the space to breathe and to work out how she can move forward and live the life she craves. When Nila arrives to India she is immediately immersed in the family of her fathers but cracks begin to appear and she picks up snippets of information about her mother. As the days pass Nila starts to unravel the mystery that has been kept hidden from her all these years and she begins to finally understand her mother properly for the very first time.
I did struggle at times with some of the language used but please do note that there is a glossary at the back of the book that I had been unaware of. However, I did read an uncorrected proof supplied by the publisher, so the presence of this glossary may be more highlighted in the final copy.
With two clearly defined timelines running in parallel, The Daughters of Madurai is a complex story of a very painful past highlighting that most unique of bonds, the mother-daughter relationship. It is clear that Rajasree Variyar was very much impacted by what she witnessed when she visited Madurai, with her research very evident throughout. The patriarchal hand is ever present with its dismissive and unyielding attitude to women and it really is extremely troubling to consider how this ultimate power still exists in societies across the globe. A thought-provoking and affecting tale The Daughters of Madurai does conjure up some disturbing images but these are balanced out by more uplifting events which do ultimately offer hope to the reader. A shameful and shocking tale of exploitation, The Daughters of Madurai is a poignant and significant debut.
[ Bio ]
Rajasree Variyar grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in London, where she juggles writing alongside a career in digital insurance product development. She received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in 2020.
Her manuscript of The Daughters of Madurai was shortlisted for Hachette UK’s 2019 Mo Siewcharran prize. Her short stories have won second prize in the Shooter Literary Magazine short story competition and been long-listed for the Brick Lane Bookshop short story competition.
Twitter ~ @Raji_Warrior