Summary and book reviews of An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao

An Unrestored Woman

by Shobha Rao

An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2017, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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About this Book

Book Summary

The twelve paired stories in Shobha Rao's An Unrestored Woman trace their origins to the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947, but they transcend that historical moment.

A young woman in a crushingly loveless marriage seizes freedom in the only way left to her; a mother is forced to confront a chilling, unforgiveable crime she committed out of love; an ambitious servant seduces both master and mistress; a young prostitute quietly, inexorably plots revenge on the madam who holds her hostage; a husband and wife must forgive each other for the death of their child.

Caught in extreme states of tension, in a world of shifting borders, of instability, Rao's characters must rely on their own wits. When Partition established Pakistan and India as sovereign states, the new boundary resulted in a colossal transfer of people, the largest peacetime migration in human history.

This mass displacement echoes throughout Rao's story couplets, which range across the twentieth century, moving beyond the subcontinent to Europe and America. Told with dark humor and ravaging beauty, An Unrestored Woman unleashes a fearless new voice on the literary scene.

AN UNRESTORED WOMAN

Neela, on the night she learned of her husband's death, sat under the banyan tree outside their hut and felt an intense hunger. It was on the night of the train accident. No, not an accident, she corrected herself. Not at all. She felt this same hunger on her wedding day. She was thirteen years old and she sat on the altar wearing a sparkling red sari and the gold mangal sutra around her neck—thin, even by the reduced standards of the impoverished northern village—and tried desperately to silence her growling stomach.

The hunger on her wedding day might've been caused by the tempting mountains of food stacked around her. Fruits, coconuts, laddoos, twisted piles of orange jilebi. She'd never seen so much food; her mouth watered. She hadn't eaten since early morning and that had only been a meager helping of rice and buttermilk. Neela eyed the bananas and mangoes piled on the plate between her and the priest. He was reciting Sanskrit ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In her prefatory author's note, Shobha Rao writes, "Though the commonly used term for these women is recovered women, I have chosen to refer to them as restored. The distinction may seem trivial, but it is necessary, forI believe that while the recovery of a person is possible, the restoration of a human being to her original state is not." Discuss the implications of this distinction in Rao's collection. How does the phrase "an unrestored woman" resonate throughout these stories?
  2. The epigraph is a quote from Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient: "All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps." Do all of Rao's characters share this desire? What power do maps hold in this collection? How do the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Rao confronts issues head-on. With confidence and courage, she writes the thin line between shying away from violence and indulging in it. She writes the terrible beauty of life and of death. An Unrestored Woman is an auspicious debut. It is one of the most resonant works I have read in a long time. I could not bear to let these characters go, and the last lines left me hungering for more.   (Reviewed by Naomi Benaron).

Full Review (1133 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Starred Review. "Rao's raw and breathtaking short story collection is set against this epic canvas, yet her character studies are intimate. Here are soulful human beings struggling with ways of retaining their essential humanity against overwhelming odds even as they face the starkest of choices between life and death for themselves and their loved ones…Exquisite turns of phrase and editing with a fine-edged scalpel only add to an outstanding and memorable debut.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Though the characters are meticulously developed within each story, the collection as a whole examines how little power a person might have over his or her own destiny when confronted with war and international disputes. Stunning and relentless.

Marylebone Journal (UK)

Magnificently unsettling and unexpectedly powerful….Every story stands alone, evocative and acutely thought-provoking, but characters recur, showing how the same events from a slightly different perspective are utterly at odds.

Author Blurb Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times best-selling author of We Are AlL Completely Beside Ourselves, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
This transporting debut will linger in your mind long past the last page.

Author Blurb Tania James, author of The Tusk That Did The Damage
Shobha Rao is a spellbinding storyteller. With An Unrestored Woman, she lifts a handful of individuals from the wreckage of Partition and illuminates their inner lives with daring and empathy.

Author Blurb Nalini Jones, author of What You Call Winter
Shobha Rao has given us clear-eyed stories of intense ruptures and unexpected connections, searing violence and genuine love.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

India's Partition and Its Lingering Effects

Partition MapAt the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, Britain withdrew from India and the country split into two so as to form an independent Muslim country to the north-east and north-west of India. Although the British withdrew essentially without incident, the decision to partition India set off a tsunami of violence and what is considered the largest single episode of human migration in history. Somewhere between 12 and 15 million people—depending on the source—abandoned their generational homelands and fled, Muslims to West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and non-Muslims, including Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, to India. Between 1 and 2 million people were murdered, and approximately 75,000 women were kidnapped, raped, and ...

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