Book Review: The Selector of Souls by Shauna Singh Baldwin
by Shauna Singh Baldwin
Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2012
“One mistake and one son.” —from The Selector of Souls (How a father of a girl and boy might describe his family.)
What do you do when a baby girl is born? Celebrate, or mourn? In India in the 1990s, sorrow often greeted a female on her entry into the world. A baby girl meant a costly wedding later, so female babies carried with them enormous economic repercussions. Worries about this financial impact led to the desire for sex selection. Sex selection links in with the abortion debate. The abortion debate links in with the mélange of religious teachings in India. Religious teachings link in with societal and cultural norms (like castes). Cultural norms link in with weddings. Weddings have economic repercussions, and so on. It adds up to a confusing, interwoven web of “What is the right thing to do?” At the centre of it all: baby girls. Who wants them? Who doesn’t? How to treat them?
“Pay 5,000 now or 50,000 later.” —from The Selector of Souls: (Sign on a clinic offering “cleanings” to get rid of girl babies.)
Shauna Singh Baldwin writes about the depth and breadth of gender issues in India. She creates an intriguing plot with empathetic female characters suitably complex enough to navigate the many tributaries of these issues. It’s not easy to empathize with her male characters, though. They lack warmth and stick rigidly to ideals imposed upon them by religion or culture.
Gender issues lie at the heart of many of the challenges faced by India: abortion, sex selection, infanticide, population imbalance, treatment of homosexuals, violence against women, wage inequality, and religious teachings. Singh Baldwin draws them all into this story, plus some other issues that are not central to the story. (The nuclear arms race is a tale for another day.) This novel would also have benefited from judicious pruning of some of the tortured introspection.
It took me a while to sink into this book and to become accustomed to the language. When writing from the point of view of Damini, a middle-aged woman with little education, Singh Baldwin transcribes words and phrases as Damini would perceive them. Depression becomes dipreyshun. It’s true, and I like it, but it takes some getting used to. Once the story gripped me, though, it held me. (Okay, I might have skimmed through the nuclear bomb bits.)
Posted on July 31, 2013, in Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I borrowed, Fiction and tagged gender issues, human-rights, India, religion, sex selection, Shauna Singh Baldwin, women's rights. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.