September 23, 2010

Family honor

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind
by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Shabanu is an 11-year-old girl who lives on the Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. Strong-willed and independent, she struggles in a patriarchal society where women are expected to obey their husbands and fathers. When an encounter with a powerful landowner almost ruins her sister Phulan's marriage, Shabanu is expected to marry the landowner's brother to uphold her family's honor and to prevent further retribution.

A very good novel that sheds light on a nomadic Muslim family and its daily activities, from caring for camels to running a household. It also details their struggles with drought and dust storms. But it also raises questions about the rights of women and the relationship between fathers and daughters. Shabanu's father cares for her and protects her, but at the same time, he tries to suppress her spirit, even though he also admires it. When Shabanu runs away, he punishes her, stopping when she does not resist. Shabanu knows that she has no choice about her forced marriage, but will only give up a part of herself.

The book does not offer any easy answers, and only hints at what will happen to Shabanu in the end. Fortunately, there's a sequel: Haveli.

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