The Daughters of Madurai

Union Square. Feb. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781454948766. $27.99. F
DEBUT In Madurai, India, in 1992, Janani is trapped in an unhappy marriage. She prays for a baby boy. Her vicious mother-in-law had two of her daughters killed at birth—girls aren’t as valuable as boys to the family, and Janani’s husband won’t oppose his mother and tradition. Not allowed to attend high school because of her gender, Janani works as a maid for a wealthy Brahmin family. The family’s dutiful son Sanjay remembers her as the smart, spirited girl who played tag with him. He gradually develops romantic feelings for her. In Australia in 2019, Janani’s twentysomething daughter Nila has a girlfriend and wonders how to break this news to her parents. Lavish descriptions of food ground the story in the Indian culture, religious rituals, and family traditions. The novel also delves into the many linguistic divisions in India and the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, but what stands out is the lack of choices for women like Janani.
VERDICT Recommended for readers looking for an evocative, clear-eyed family saga set in India and for fans of Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings.
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