Isha Tilak is distraught. Her beloved husband, Nikhil, has been murdered under suspicious circumstances, and she is heavily pregnant with their second child. To make matters even worse, Nikhil’s parents are pressuring her to abort her unborn baby - not because the child would be a burden, but because it is a girl. Isha has witnessed their mistreatment of her older daughter, Priya, and refuses to subject her second child to that harshness simply on the basis of her sex. When her in-laws’ request for an abortion becomes a demand, Isha leaves their home and sets out on her own, not knowing where she can go or who she can turn to. All she knows is that she must protect her children, her beautiful daughters.
Shobhan Bantwal has a history of writing about controversial Indian subjects. Her first book, The Dowry Bride, was about bride-burnings in India; specifically, it was the story of a woman who wasn’t producing children in a marriage and uncovered a plot by her mother-in-law to kill her so she wouldn’t have to return the dowry (which she would have to do if there were a divorce). This second book is about female abortions and infanticide. These topics, while uncomfortable, do take place in India (female abortion much more so than bride burnings, if I am not mistaken), and it is important that people become aware of them. Bantwal writes her novels in a manner that is easy to digest and, while shocking, brings important issues to light. Her resolve to educate others is admirable.
The story of the novel, while a bit stilted in places, is sweet. We follow Isha’s story and watch her develop from a pampered girl into a strong, independent woman. She is very human - guarded and careful, not quick to forgive others. Sometimes in stories of adversity, the protagonist is written as a superhuman, someone better than the rest of us. Isha isn’t like that; she is very real and only does what she must do to protect herself and her children. The end of the story is a little crazy and unbelievable; one of the characters remarks that he feels like he is in a Bollywood movie. However, it is still an extremely worthwhile and enjoyable book.
Though the controversial subject of female infanticide doesn’t receive much publicity in the United States, it is a real problem in India. It is now illegal in India for a doctor to discuss the sex of a child with its parents before birth, though as we see in The Forbidden Daughter, that doesn’t prevent many doctors from doing it anyway. It is important to note that this isn’t a general mindset – my parents, who are Indian, have two daughters and have always been more than thrilled to have us. While a reader shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is the mindset of all Indians, it is a serious and very heartbreaking problem.
The Forbidden Daughter is a wonderful story that defies genres. It is a daring book, bringing to light a problem that has been hidden just beneath the surface in India for quite some time. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in controversial issues, or anyone simply looking for an engaging story.