The narrative follows Virmati’s life through World War II and Partition as her studies are interrupted by an illicit love affair with a neighboring professor – a married man – whose passion for her begins to take the shape of an obsession. Virmati finds herself torn between her love for the professor, her obligations to her family, and her unyielding desire for independence; her life is soon in upheaval as she’s thrust about by the opinions and desires of those around her. With a striking command of language and a natural eloquence, Kapur weaves a story at once heartbreaking and impressively thought-provoking. Her female characters are all fiercely rendered, each fascinating in her own way – from the professor’s disgraced first wife to Virmati’s activist roommate – and each fascinating despite her flaws. No one is without shortcomings in the story, including Virmati, whose devotion to the professor readers may not be able to fully grasp. Virmati’s father is perhaps the most progressively drawn of the male characters here, while the professor seems at first a starry-eyed intellectual evoking compassion before developing into a decidedly selfish, maudlin source of frustration. This, though, feels like quite the unconventional portrait of a romance that Kapur intended to draw, and as the novel progresses it makes Virmati’s story all the more poignant.
First published in 1998, Difficult Daughters went on to win the 1999 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in the Europe and South Asia region. Reading it, one is quick to forget that the novel was, in fact, Kapur’s debut: her style of writing is risky but beautiful, her confidence steady, and her characters richly developed. Her inclusion of small, consistent details that color the daily life of her Indian women works to bring the authenticity of her India to larger life, even for a foreign reader who may not be familiar with the native terms Kapur is quick to utilize. This is one of the many charms of Difficult Daughters, the way it confidently offers its roots and the road to its present. In her examination of the search for female identity, Kapur puts forth an illuminating novel full of power, honesty, and grace.
Difficult Daughters has been newly released in ebook format alongside Manju Kapur's four subsequent novels by Open Road Media.
Title: Difficult Daughters
Author: Manju Kapur
Genre: literary fiction
Publisher: Open Road Media (Penguin, original)
Release date: May 20, 2014 (1998, original)
Source: Open Road Media (C/O)