Monday, June 22, 2015

#BookReview: Unbound : 2000 Years of Indian Women's Writing Edited by Annie Zaidi

On the jacket:

Unbound is a collection of some of the most significant writing by Indian women over the past two thousand years. Divided into eleven sections, it encompasses writing on various aspects of life: spirituality, love, marriage, children, food, work, social and individual identity, battles, myths and fables, travel, and death. While many of the pieces are commentaries on the struggle that women undergo to overcome obstacles—social and political—all of them showcase the remarkable creative ability of their creators. The term ‘women’s writing’ has often been used to limit and stereotype the work of women writers. But it also has a larger and more constructive meaning, and that is the sense in which it has been used to inform and describe the context of the book. As Annie Zaidi explains in her introduction: ‘Women bring to their writing the truth of their bodies, and an enquiry into the different ways in which gender inequity shapes human experience.’
Selected from hundreds of novels, memoirs, essays, short story collections and volumes of poetry that were either written in English or that have been translated into English, the pieces in this collection include the most distinctive and powerful voices from every era. There are verses from the Therigatha, written by Buddhist nuns (circa 300 BCE), and writing by poet-saints like Andal, Avvaiyar, Lal Ded, Mirabai; modern classics by writers 
like Ajeet Cour, Amrita Pritam, Arundhati Roy, Attia Hosian, Bama, Bulbul Sharma, Irawati Karve, Ismat Chughtai, Kamala Das, Krishna Sobti, Mahasweta Devi, Manju Kapur, Mannu Bhandari, Mrinal Pande, Nayantara Sahgal, Pinki Virani, Qurratulain Hyder, Rashid Jahan, Romila Thapar, Sarojini Naidu, Saudamini Devi, Shivani; and powerful new voices from our time like Arundhathi Subramaniam, Nilanjana Roy, Nivedita Menon.


I had not read a lot of Indian women writer in the past. Few, whose names kept coming up in conversations, yes. But mostly, not. So when the opportunity to review Unbound : 2000 Years of Indian Women's Writing came up, it was thrilling. I have not read Annie Zaidi before though I have heard good things about her books. So, I picked this book up with some trust and some hesitation.

The cover is, let's not be shy with words, KICK-ASS. I was sold to the book here itself. When I turned the cover and reached the index, whatever doubts I had went flying through the window. This book is an extremely ambitious and daring project, I must say. Ambitious and very very difficult. It is not a matter of joke to research about women authors from the last 2000 years, read them, decide whom to include and whom not to, pick their best works and put them together in an order that will appeal to the reader, is no mean feat.

When putting together an anthology what is probably the most difficult, is choosing which stories to include and which ones to leave out. Also, in this case, which authors to include. Zaidi has done a great job regarding this, in my opinion. While reading Unbound : 2000 Years of Indian Women's Writing I felt that there is something in the book for everyone. You can pick your favourite authors/translators and read/re-read them. You can also have a pick from the authors you have not read but heard of. And, you can read works by authors completely unknown to you. 

If this book was compiled by someone else, the chosen authors and their works might have been different. But it becomes easier to associate with the chosen ones, once you read Zaidi's account in the introduction.

If you love literature, I'd say give this book a try. It is one such anthology which you might want to read a few pages of today, and come back to months later, to read someone else as your mood demands. This is a book to keep.

Rating: *****/5

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