Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dowry Bride

by Shobhan Bantwal

The Dowry Bride is another book I discovered from a student recommendation. It addresses a serious issue in India --- dowry deaths. Dowry deaths are the "mysterious accidents" that occur when girl's family cannot pay the promised dowry to her husband's family. Megha finds herself in this situation. One night she overhears her mother-in-law and her husband plotting her death and how to make it look like a kitchen accident. In a panic, she runs. The only place she can think to go is her husband's cousin who has treated her very kindly in the past. He takes her in, regardless of what the consequences will be for them both.

This book was a very good overview of India's controversial dowry system, but it lacked depth. The novel eventually becomes more of a love story and the social and moral issues get lost in the story. The novel takes on a "sweetness", rather than focusing on the horrors of the issue. Everything seems to work out just too perfectly in the end, with there being very few ramifications for the characters. Ramifications are mentioned briefly, but neither of the characters ever really "face the music" for what they have done. In the real world, several characters would have suffered consequences, some of them severe. One review on Amazon compared this book to the Kite Runner, hoping it would bring the same awareness to India's dowry system. I am afraid that will not be the case, simply because the issues take a backseat to the love story.

The author does do an excellent job of showing the growth of Megha, from an insecure girl who has been beaten down by her husband's family to a more confident student who suceeds in finding a real life and choosing her own path. She is a good role model for young girls of all backgrounds. All the characters are believable and well developed. The descriptive writing techniques employed by Bantwal are wonderful. I enjoyed the story and the writing. The best part of the book was the insight she gives into India culture, especially that of conservative Hindu families. Arranged marriages, dowry payments, traditional dress and allegiance to one's promises regardless of the situtaion or outcomes. The portrayal of Indian culture was quite good and makes the novel stand out.

This was Shobhan Bantwal's debut novel and she has two other novels I look forward to reading, The Forbidden Daughter and the Sari Shop Widow. Both of the books take a look at some of India's darkest traditions, female infanticide and treatment of widows.

Rating B

1 comment:

  1. I read Sari Shop Widow and enjoyed it, though I didn't love it. I appreciate your thoughtful, honest and balanced review.