The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar | Book Review

There are some books, very rare, that grab at an issue and twist it until it’s nothing but a bunch of bare threads. Everything that constitutes it is out in the open – circumstances, decisions, relationships, reasons, strengths, weaknesses, heartbreaks – all of it. For us women, especially, each of these threads are as important as the other, because we simply cannot afford to be shortsighted. And yet, push us far enough and we will harness all our strength and push back so hard, you’ll find yourself questioning your reality. Putting all of this – a complex web of feelings and thoughts and decisions – into one book is a feat in itself.

And Rajasree Variyar does it in fabulously in The Daughters of Madurai.

Book cover for The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar

This is the story of a mother and daughter, both of whose stories are separated by time and leaps in narrative. In one thread, we follow Nila, the daughter, in 2019, and her journey from Sydney, Australia, to Madurai where her grandfather (her father’s father) is ill. In the other, we follow her mother Janani, in the early 1990s and the horrors that she has gone through. Both these threads come together to form a story infuriatingly real, one that we wish weren’t a reflection of reality.

The Daughters of Madurai is an emotional read about women and the way 1990s society treated women like we were dispensable, like we were curses upon the heads of our families. It’s the story of mothers, daughters, and their relationships. It’s the story of strength, of female willpower to fight against the wrongs, of staying true to oneself through all the horrors inflicted on women, of patriarchy and misogyny, of smashing them, of accepting ourselves, of finding what’s best for ourselves so that we are able to give the world the best despite everything in it that stands against us.

While it’s the story of fighting for the best, it is also about doing the best we can at any given point in time. We tend to think that fighting for ourselves, our loved ones, or the right cause is how we show strength. But sometimes circumstances are so out of our control that we HAVE to work with what’s at hand. And that takes an exceptional amount of courage, too. It’s about doing the best with what we have until we come to that point when we know that we can handle what’s coming. I know this to be true because I’ve seen an exceptional woman do this, and she is one of the strongest, the best women I know.

And with a story as The Daughters of Madurai, which talks about a mother trying to do the right thing for her daughter in. more ways than one, I’m reminded of all those times when my own mother did everything in her power for me to grow up to be the woman I am. It shattered my heart, especially since I’m thousands of miles and oceans away from my mother at this point. And this fact cracked open my heart even more. However old you grow, you can never grow out of the feeling that says in your ear, “I wish Mum was here.” You’ll grow up to understand her better than you ever did. You’ll grow up to see her in a different light that will multiply your love for her in ways you never thought you’d feel. You’ll grow up with the most protective feeling for her in your heart and you’ll want to tear apart anyone who brings tears to her eyes, yourself included. It’s a wide range of feelings, but every one of these paths leads back to the woman who gave birth to you. And this book, this story, made me feel all of these things.

Rajasree Variyar explores the mother-daughter dynamic with a kind of restraint that is laced with freedom. She shows us their relationship in the best times and in bad times. She educates us about how mothers are – as discussed previously – are doing the best they can to bring up women who they hope are stronger than they ever were. As daughters, we see our mothers, but do we see their pasts? Do we see all the decisions that they made in order to bring us to this day? How do we override their parental authority and accuse them of making the wrong decision when that very parental authority is something that frightens them every day because of how huge of a responsibility it is?

When you combine all of this and reflect the world’s misogyny and sexism and the existence and flourishing of patriarchy in a story that unflinchingly describes female infanticide and women being slotted into roles, you get a stark reminder hammered into your mind. A reminder of the gory past. A reminder that this past still exists in a lot of places to this day. A reminder that patriarchy is still alive and kicking. A reminder that we should never forget everything women were made to go through. It is our history, one that half the world seems to take as a guide on ‘how to treat women.’ That’s NOT how you treat women. Grow up. EVOLVE.

Coming back to the book, the prose flows beautifully in The Daughters of Madurai and combined with the intensive strength of the plot, it turns into a dynamite that erupts within you. It shuttles between two timelines – one in 2019 and one in the early 1990s – and brings a healthy contrast between the tracks as it does. It keeps you invested from the first line to the last, although some descriptions are so infuriating that you want to pause, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can’t punch fictional characters, and only then move on.

On the whole, The Daughters of Madurai is a powerful story. And even though a couple of the plot points can seem a little contrived and a little too unrealistically utopian, it makes for a reflective book, one that will stay with you for a long time. The unrealistic utopia, I’ll take, because there’s enough dystopia as is. Let me just hope for a bit that if ever this were to happen (God forbid), this utopia will be what saves the woman in question. And saving oneself is never unrealistic.

What did you think of this book review? Did you like it? Did you not like it? Have you read The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar? If you did, what did you think about it? If not, will you pick it up after reading my review? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

I’ll see you in the next blog post.

Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life! 😊

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