“Difficult daughters” a book I enjoyed reading. 

(in english underneath)

“Difficult daughters” est le premier roman d’une auteure Indienne, Manju Kapur. Les style est enlevé, léger, coloré de touches descriptives jamais poussées jusqu’à devenir ennuyeuses. Ce que j’ai aimé par dessus tout, c’est la grande diversité de situations et de points de vues tous combinés pour mettre en place une seule histoire. L’histoire de la vie amoureuse d’une femme, de son point de vue, mais également du point de vue de son père, sa mère, ses très nombreux frères et soeurs, son grand-père, sa tante, sa cousine, son amie, son amant, la femme de son amant, la mère de celle-ci et surtout, sa fille, narratrice, qui se met de côté durant tout le récit pour se présenter elle même et sa vie présente, comme le dénouement de cette histoire. Les enjeux sont multiples, parfois antagonistes. Les intérêts des uns et des autres se rejoignent plus ou moins et même si on est plus attaché au déroulement de l’histoire du point de vue de la femme, sa situation présentée de façon très globale donne une vision nuancée des choix qu’elle a faits, lorsqu’elle avait le choix. J’ai beaucoup aimé du coup la reflexion sous jacente, sur les composantes du bonheur, telles que l’amour, l’épanouissement intellectuel et l’équilibre familial. Rien n’est évident. Les études sont tantôt l’instrument de la libération, ou le seul moyen de vivre dignement loin d’une famille qu’on ne peut plus supporter, étant sous-entendu, que la seule chose qui puisse se mesurer à l’intimité familiale reste la soif de connaissances et le prestige que ces derrnières confèrent. La narratrice pourtant se présente comme divorcée d’un homme instruit, que son instruction même n’a pas empêchée d’être un mari défaillant. L’enfant issu de cette histoire d’amour menée contre la bienséance, semble finalement accorder plus d’importance à une vie familiale qu’à son autonomie. C’est l’histoire de tout un ensemble de personnes qui n’arrivent pas à mettre en place des compromis harmonieux, si la femme clef de l’histoire ne sacrifie pas toutes ses aspirations….sachant qu’elle non plus ne parvient ni à l’harmonie, ni à un bonheur durable, ni même à éviter les sacrifices. Toute l’histoire se soulève hors de son cadre d’intrigue de boudoirs, grâce à son insertion perlière dans l’huitre de l’histoire de l’inde, lors de la prise d’indépendance et de la naissance du Pakistan. L’afflux énorme de réfugiés dans une petite ville permet par exemple à l’héroïne de se rapprocher  de la famille qui la rejette, par l’énormité des drames d’autrui, mise en miroir avec les haines familiales qui parraissent futiles. Les thèmes me semblent aussi modernes, actuels: avortement, dégradation des conditions de vie, emprise de la société plus forte que la liberté que la démocratisation des connaissances avait laissé espérer.

difficult daughters

« Difficult Daughters » Is the first novel by the Indian author Manju Kapur, published year 1998.

It won The Common Wealth prize for first Novels, and was very well received by public.

The style is airy, colored with descriptive touches who manage never to keep the intrigue from flowing. The story is defused skillfully through the prism of several points of view. It relates the love life of a woman, at first the eldest daughter and mother substitute in a very large family. We get to know her story, from her point of view, but also, from the point of view of her father, her mother, her numerous brothers and sisters, her grandfather, her aunt, her cousin, her best friend and her lover, and even the lover’s friend, mother and wife, and especially, her daughter, the character who also is telling the story. The daughter sets herself aside after a short introduction where she states her solitude and her mourning of her mother. The true development of her life appears only at the end, as a conclusion of the whole. The things at stake are various, sometimes antagonistic, the better interest of the ones and others join together more or less, and even if we are as readers, more attached to the fate of the woman, her situation shown in a rather global frame, gives a shaded vision of her choices—when she has the choice.

This narrative style allows a peaceful underlying discussion on the components of happiness, such as love, intellectual fulfillment and family balance. Nothing sticks out as obvious. The book manages never to fall in the trap of decrying the society it describes. Studies are sometimes the tool for reaching to freedom, or the only way to live honorably away from a suffocating family, knowledge and thirst for it, being the only possible pendant to family life. For a girl remained old maid, it’s also a good cover to being single. Studies might lose all their positive meaning and turn into a sterile exile and the instrument of solitude. The narrator for instance presents herself as the divorced wife to an educated man, whose education didn’t keep him from being unfit as a husband, rather the opposite.

The child born from this love story, an abnormal story in defiance of social rules, seems finally to give more weight to a family life that she never can have, than to the autonomy which is her own. It is, in short, the story of a whole family and even neighborhood who doesn’t manage to activate harmonious compromises, if the key woman doesn’t sacrifice all of her hopes in a life that never from the start was her own….but the outcome brings her no harmony, no lasting happiness, and not even avoidance of sacrifice (she undergoes abortion) One could almost say, that in this story, the woman even having hopes and desires of her own, is an abnormality, and it is well described as such.

The whole plot lifts from it’s private alcove, thanks to being inserted into the historical context of the Indian independence and the birth of Pakistan. The enormous flood of refugees in a rather small town allows the outcast woman to create new bonds with her lost family, the distress of those who have lost all suddenly so much more important than the petty businesses of those trying to rules over others. The topics are very modern: abortion, loss of quality in living conditions, refugee crisis, feminism, society’s grasp on individuals, stronger than the democratization of knowledge had made us hope for.

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