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July 17, 1999
Big Plans Set For 'What The Body Remembers'
A P Kamath in New York
With What the Body Remembers set to be published in two months, Shauna Singh Baldwin emerges as yet another Indian American writer to make her debut with one of the major publishing houses in America.
The novel is being published by Nan A Talese, an imprint at Doubleday, simultaneously in America, Canada and the United Kingdom. Germany, Italy and France have already grabbed the rights Doubleday is the publisher of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's novels and anthology of poems. It has also published the paperback edition of Kiran Desai's Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard.
Doubleday will give a high-profile publicity to the book. Author appearance and book-signing in more than a dozen cities is being planned.
What the Body Remembers, a novel set against the turbulent years leading to the Partition of India, offers a feminist perspective of the tragic era, Baldwin says.
The story starts with Roop, a village girl, whose mother is dead and father is in deep debt. So it is with elation she learns that she is going to be the second wife of a wealthy Sikh landlord, 25 years older to her. Naively, Roop believes that Satya, the landlord's first wife who is 42 and without children, will treat the new bride as her own sister.
The relationship between the two women becomes even more complicated with the arrival of children, and the tussle to win and retain the love of the husband.
Baldwin's story of domestic warfare continues unfolding as the ferocious religious and communal conflicts across Punjab lead to the inexorable tragedy of the Partition.
What the Body Remembers is also the story of Satya who is forced to adapt desperate measures to maintain her place in the rigid society and in her husband's unsteady heart.
It is also the story of the Sardarji, the landlord, who is not only caught between the two women but also in the vortex of the nationalist and separatist conflicts.
Baldwin, who has lived in three continents, and is married to an Irishman is too familiar with the demands made by the forces of diaspora.
Milwaukee-based Baldwin was born in Montreal, and grew up in India. In India, and North America, for many years now, she has been collecting tales of displaced persons.
The author of English Lessons and Other Stories, (1996), dramatic tales about Indian women from 1919 to today in India, Canada and the USA. Co-author of A Foreign Visitor's Survival Guide, (1992), she has published short stories and essays in more than a dozen literary magazines during the past decade.
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