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Shobha Rao Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Girls Burn Brighter (2018)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Collections

An Unrestored Woman (2016)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Anthologies

The Best American Short Stories 2015(2015)Description / Buy at Amazon

Shobha Rao is an Indian born American author of fiction books. Shobha’s family moved from India to the United States when she was only seven years of age. She has won Katherine Anne Porter Award in Fiction, and in 2015 T.C selected her story Mustafa and Kavitha to be included in Best American Short Stories. She is also famously known as the author of a novel titled Girls Burn Brighter and a short story collection, An Unrestored Woman.

An Unrestored Woman

The division (partition) of India that took place in 1947 saw the biggest and largest peacetime migration in history. The rush to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the border saw more than 10 million people displaced; violence erupted, leading to the death of over one million people. Women were particularly vulnerable- up to 50, 000 women were kidnapped in India and another 33,000 kidnapped in Pakistani.

In 1949, the Indian government passed a bill requiring the return of the abducted women to their communities. However, this legislation could never solve the complex social problem. Even more threatening, many women who were returned to their families were seen as impure, and mothers were estranged from their children who were considered a “property” of the nation they had been born.

The psychological effects as a result of the Partition of India have been long-lasting, thus making this subject a fertile ground for many literary investigations. In his book, Capital (2014), the British author, Rana Dasgupta analyzed the existing trauma of partition and the effects on the Modern day India.

In An Unrestored Woman, Shobha Rao’s tackles the same issue but in this case through fiction, studying the lives of women from different perspectives. She addresses the problems of memory, freedom and the possibility of reconciliation. The action takes place away from the cities ranging from Raj-era homes to rural brothels and camps for displaced people and across generation from the day of the partition to the present day.

Throughout this story collection, Shobha Rao checks on the relationship between women and the state. By insisting that these women belonged to a given nation, the Act that required women to be returned to their homes only turned them into the property of their nation, to be disputed and reclaimed.

In the short story Blindfold, it highlights the way in which women are viewed as commodities from an early age, only marrying at 12 or sold to brothels even at younger generations. This type of “ownership” in which women are “bought” from their parents and “sold” to their clients or husbands creates a cycle of violence and abuse. The story focuses on the relationship between a brothel keeper named Bandra and a girl named Zubaida. Identified when she was only four years old, Zubaida is bought from her dad with a silver coin as a down payment. When she comes to collect the girl seven years later, the dad attempts to revoke the deal but she has him beaten and the child taken away by force.

Life in the brothel is a falsification of family relationships-the teenage girls are advised to call Bandra “ma” and even to defer to her all the times. Zubaida is given a new name, and she becomes much sought after than the rest of the girls, but eventually, Bandra decides to sell her to a wealthy client as a wife. Zubaida’s life is like a series of financial transactions each marked by violence, and the last is no exception.

The title narrative, on the other hand, exposes a counter-intuitive idea of Partition. For some people, the displacement was a way for women to leave the harsh society behind. The refugee camps were the place where women could temporarily escape the influence of the men. This idea of escape is further expounded in the story, The Merchant’s Mistress which follows a character named Renu who left the refugee camp to Ahmedabad. She travels disguised as a man, and the story mixes transgressive elements and the elements of traditional fables- servants who enter their master’s homes and expropriates their places.

Renu assumes a position in businessman’s home and starts an affair with the man and his wife. She is able to find a space for herself which would have been impossible in the Raj.

The portrayal of men in An Unrestored Woman is fascinating. They are presented as dead, powerless or an opium daze. The inability of men to protect the women manifests itself in a backlash against the women’s rights. The different themes in the short story collection are all brought together in The Opposite Sex. The story focuses on a surveyor who is instructed to map the new border of East Pakistan and India. He falls madly in love with the daughter of a local landowner, who has been preserved for a local farmer along with a dowry of 100 acres.

Fortunately, the surveyor spots an opportunity to prevent the wedding, and so she redraws the map to reduce the father’s land size. In this context, both land and women are objects to be owned and manipulated, but the surveyor’s actions lead to a series of violence and deaths.

An Unrestored Woman wonderfully mixes visceral literary power with sharp analytical insight. While Shobha Rao never loses the sight of the political repercussions of her writing, her characters never feel like puppets in their own stories. There is a fiercely managed anger in the collection which serves to expose the truth about the Partition and the destructive power of colonialism. Through all the stories, the author goes deep to restoring both the voices and the dignity of the victims.

Girls Burn Brighter

Girls Burn Brighter is an electrifying debut novel set in the United States and India, about a lifelong friendship between two girls who are separated but never stop trying to seek one another.

When Poornima meets Savitha, she feels hope. Her father hires Saviha to work for them, and the two girls are instantly drawn to each other. Even though Savitha is more impoverished than Poornima, she is full of energy and passion and shows her friend how to find beauty in life.

But when something sends Savitha away, Poornima deserts everything she has ever known behind to find her best friend again. Her mission takes her to the darkest places in India underworld and eventually to an building in Seattle. Narrated from alternating point of views, Girls Burn Brighter tackles urgent issues affecting women today: human trafficking, domestic abuse, feminism, and immigration.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Shobha Rao

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