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Book Reviews for Shashi Deshpande

Updated on June 4, 2011

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Shashi Deshpade - The Author

The Indian Authors who write in English are getting their due. Finally! They are no longer considered the poor man's reading but stand up as individual writers in their own right.

One such writer happens to be Shashi Deshpande. The lady writes predominantly about India women as they under go major life changes.The changes in society also lead to differences in their lifestyle.

Through the books you gain an insight into them all. You can trace the society as it changes from generation to generation and see what the mother and daughter face.The more things change the more they stay the same as the challenges often reveal.

That Long Silence

As is typical of all her novels the central character is a lady named Jaya. We get introduced to bits of her life in the form of people who have pervaded that situation. There is the father who died when she was still in school. Her grandmothers who have wilted and died among families yet away from them. There is the mother who is distant in place but ever present in thoughts. There are her brothers; one a successful doctor and the other a disreputable “never do good“ who enters her sphere whenever he needs help.

Then there is the immediate family with its hidden hostilities. The power struggle with the husband which she claims to have lost, but in truth is still fighting over. The disappointment in her daughter and the expectations from her son are mirrored in the pages. The neighbours who have always been around to help her. One who is no more, but even in death haunts her. Other ghosts from her past who catch up with her either in person or in memories as she endures her personal tragedy.

The typical role playing that is involved in a marriage where the husband must be made much of by the wife. Where the wife feels guilty to breathe if that breath is not constructive to the caring of her husband and his children. The shackles of society willingly taken on. The suffocating of her own desires. The dawning of the truth of the sham that her life is. The resolve to change, to be more than what she is. The knowledge that one step backwards will take her back into the abyss that she has stepped out of.

The uncertainty of the future of her relationships with near and dear ones. The definite challenge of bringing about a change. The resolve to stick to it, and the unpredictable prospects that the future will bring. It is all there in this story that won the author her award. Typical of her short stories and true to form. Not as compelling as the shorter reads, but a good portrait of the woman who is struggling with herself to be who she really is.

Moving On

When I started the book I was a little surprised to find that the narrator was male. After all it was a Shashi Deshpande novel and should by all previous samples have a woman at the heart of the story. As I reached the second chapter, she ran true to form. It was a woman who had discovered the diaries that her critically ill father had kept. It was her life story with a lot of colorful people and circumstances thrown in.

A sheltered and happy childhood, a romantic fling which the mother disapproved of , turning into marriage. A set of complications arising from a sister’s illness and a husband’s inability to provide for his wife leading to infidelity and betrayal in the woman’s past.

The present also had some very real and physical dangers present which are dealt with in the best way possible. The story of a family as it weaves its path through the years and becomes closer knit than it was after undergoing tribulations that could have split it wide open.

A shade better than an MB and a couple of shades less than a classic is how I would describe it. Almost Indian Daniel Steel. I quite enjoyed it. If you are looking for light reading go right ahead and indulge.

The Dark Holds No Terror

A simple enough novel with a complex theme, which brings to the front a number of strong emotions felt by the main character, who is a doctor. She is bound by the guilt of her past actions and the terror of the present life that she leads. The accidental death of her brother by drowning as a child, which her mother holds her responsible for, and the pain that she is aware of causing her parents when she marries against their will is what she believes she is being punished for.

A wife who is more successful than her husband, who initially is proud of her achievements and gradually is jealous and resentful of the esteem others hold her in. The way her life shatters when he acts out regular scenes of marital rape. The trauma faced by a modern woman with a highly traditional upbringing is exploited very well. To all outward appearances she is independent and a woman of the world, but inside she doesn’t know how to deal with the monster that her husband becomes at night. Especially when he acts as though nothing at all out of the ordinary has happened the very next morning.

She runs away to her parents’ home at the death of her mother, and tries to work out the way she would like her life to proceed. She draws on her evolving relationship with her father. She battles memories of her mother, the guilt of her brother’s death, the reconnection with the past that she felt she had left behind and her own surging emotional responses to it all. And when we leave her, she has decided on what course of action she must follow.

Tremendously powerful portrayal of a woman’s fight to survive in a male-dominated society by a fabulous author.


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