Book Club October Pick: An Unrestored Woman, by Shobha Rao




I believe that while the recovery of a person is possible, the restoration of a human being to her original state is not. An Unrestored Woman, Shobha Rao


It is easy as a reader to stick to what we know. To seek out the books that reassert the ideas we have for ourselves and the world around us. A much trickier space to navigate is to pick up a book that rewrites a piece of your cognitive process. That makes you catch your breath and realise, for a large part of your life, you have been wrong or ignorant or corrupt in your thinking.


Our October pick for The Introverted Book Club was Shobha Rao's transporting debut of short stories 'An Unrestored Woman'. The 12 stories, which are paired in reading, trace their origin back to the 1947 formation of India and Pakistan, following the decline of the British Empire. Despite being considered as the biggest episode of mass displacement and migration in human history, it is often skipped over in Western education. Particularly British history education.


During the partition of India and Pakistan, women and children were the most vulnerable. Women on both sides were abducted, and those that were returned to their families were often rejected for being 'impure'. In 1949 India legislated the Abducted Persons Act, which saw that these women had to be returned to their families. Often referred to thereafter as recovered women, in her collection Rao has chosen to refer to them as restored. The reasoning being their experiences would never allow for them to be fully recovered.


I admit I haven't delved too deeply, but I haven't seen Rao's collection referred to as a feminist text, and I would hesitate to add the label myself. Yet the women in her stories (for they are the main protagonists) explores the pure strength and resilience that existed during this time. Rao takes the history that her stories originate from one step further in creating paired stories, providing the reader with a multitude of perspectives that reaches out and spans both a long reaching timeline and the globe. Above and beyond any ideas of feminism, is Rao's indisputable knowledge of human behaviour.

For a debut collection each and every one of these stories had me enraptured. Rao's beautiful prose and ability to craft characters that linger rivalled that of any established author I have read. Rao doesn't shy away from the difficult points of her characters experience, but neither does she force them into your face. We are simply told 'This is what happened. This is how they survived'.


Ultimately I felt that this collection is about relationships. The connections we make in the face of adversity. How we find our capacity for love, survival, and the destructive force this can return to us.


Not easy reading by any means, but an important collection.


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The Introverted Book Club is a monthly bookish meet up, to discuss one book of choice over coffee. Our preferred themes are around emotional health, psychology, and writers from non-western backgrounds.

Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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