REVIEW: Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Format:  Paperback, 322 pages
Genre:  General Fiction / Indian Lit
ISBN:  038548951X
Published:  January 2000
Setting:  Calcutta, India / San Francisco CA

Rating:  4 of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

From the award-winning author of Mistress of Spices, the bestselling novel about the extraordinary bond between two women, and the family secrets and romantic jealousies that threaten to tear them apart.

Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family of distinction. Her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of that same family. Sudha is startlingly beautiful; Anju is not. Despite those differences, since the day on which the two girls were born, the same day their fathers died–mysteriously and violently–Sudha and Anju have been sisters of the heart. Bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend, the two girls grow into womanhood as if their fates as well as their hearts were merged.

But, when Sudha learns a dark family secret, that connection is shattered. For the first time in their lives, the girls know what it is to feel suspicion and distrust. Urged into arranged marriages, Sudha and Anju’s lives take opposite turns. Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household. Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. When tragedy strikes each of them, however, they discover that despite distance and marriage, they have only each other to turn to.

Set in the two worlds of San Francisco and India, this exceptionally moving novel tells a story at once familiar and exotic, seducing readers from the first page with the lush prose we have come to expect from Divakaruni. Sister of My Heart is a novel destined to become as widely beloved as it is acclaimed.

My Thoughts:

This book is a continuation of my love affair with Indian literature.  Divakaruni delivers in a sublime fashion, developing a story that is rich not only in Indian setting, culture & lifestyle, but also in multi-dimensional characters whose strengths and weaknesses are understandable and relatable.  How many young women, growing up in a generation rife with privilege and (Western) influence, do not seek to find their own places in the world, even if it means stretching (perhaps to the breaking point) the constraints, cultural requirements (and even taboos) of previous generations.  Anju & Sudha both try to do this in their own ways, and yet, when they are faced with making a decision to pursue happiness, they find the personal cost too great.

In some ways, I found both of these women ridiculously frustrating.  I thought Sudha was weak and selfish.  I I thought Anju was rebellious and smart-alecky.  That Sudha would not allow herself the happiness of marriage to her only love was something that made me nearly scream in frustration…until (at the end) he proved to be unworthy.  That Anju followed through on an arranged marriage when she learned her betrothed loved someone else equally frustrated me…because he was untrustworthy and she knew it.  In the end both of their lives were nearly shattered by these decisions.  And yet, it was very obvious that these (naive) decisions were (eventually) the catalysts that gave them strength to change their lives…to protect their loved ones, to reconnect with each other, and to allow for understanding and forgiveness to take root and grow.


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