Title: Sisters of the Sari
Author: Brenda L. Baker
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
When Kiria Langdon, the CEO of a popular video game company, decides to travel to India, she doesn’t want the glitz and glamour – she wants to see real India. She travels to Chennai, a city in Southern India, where she meets a woman named Santoshi. Santoshi is a former slave living at a homeless shelter in appalling conditions. Inspired to help women in need, Kiria decides to build a home for women, with Santoshi’s help.
When I first heard about Sisters of the Sari, I was intrigued. I knew that the author, Brenda L. Baker, had lived in India and so I hoped that the main character’s experiences would ring true. Additionally, having seen the soul-crushing poverty of urban India, I could understand Baker’s desire to write a book about a woman with no limits who decided to help in the most grandiose of ways.
Baker’s novel does highlight many of the problems and frustrations of modern-day India. From the sheer poverty to dowry and mother/daughter-in-law issues to preference for sons, Sisters of the Sari does not shy away from the more difficult parts of modern Indian culture. It’s interesting to see these problems through Western eyes, from someone who isn’t familiar with the culture upon arriving in India.
However, I also had some issues with Sisters of the Sari that I couldn’t get past while reading. The book was very choppy and random – characters would jump situations from one paragraph to another. The book would sometimes be in first person, sometimes in third, with no warning. At first I thought it was just a narrator shift, with Kiria in first person, until I read some chapters where the narrator was Kiria, yet it was in third person – I found this to be confusing.
There were also way too many plotlines, and the book would jump between each too quickly and randomly. For example, ::minor spoiler:: at one point early in the book, it’s revealed that Kiria gave a son up for adoption. This son, now grown, makes contact with Kiria. ::end spoiler:: To me, this storyline had no real relevance to the overall narrative. There were many instances of this, trying to do too much in one book, and it made the novel clunky.
I also had problems with Kiria over the course of the novel. From what I understood from the description of the book, it was supposed to be about Kiria thinking she would magnanimously change the lives of these poor Indian women, and instead, Santoshi changing Kiria’s life. However, I didn’t see that come across in the book. I didn’t feel like Kiria changed very much, and she continuously discussed how she was trying to help Santoshi, and getting herself in messes because of it. At one point, Kiria even lists out the things she’s done to help Santoshi – it just left a bad taste in my mouth. I came into this novel thinking that there would be an east meets west balance, but instead it just seemed to focus on the darker sides of India.
In the end, Sisters of the Sari just didn’t work for me. I really appreciated what Baker tried to do, but I ended up confused and a little put out by quotes like “Let’s face it. India is practically synonymous with poverty.” If you’re looking for an introduction to some issues of India through the eyes of a Westerner wanting to help, this might be a good book to pick up, but if you’re well versed in South Asian literature, I’d choose another novel.