The women’s courtyard by Khadija Mastur review

Translated from the Urdu, “Aangan” by Daisy Rockwell.

Khadija Mastur was known as the Bronte sister of Urdu literature. I can see why. This book is a literary masterpiece. Read on to hear my thoughts about it.

This novel is set in the 1940’s in the background of Indian independence and with the partition looming as a dark shadow. It also puts light on the political furore that went within the country during those times.

This is the story of Aliya, who lives her life like a caged bird in the inner courtyard of her house. She is tired of the trifle squabbles that take place in her home everyday. She longs to educate herself and spread her wings in the wide sky. The women of the household are engrossed in gossips and picking fights over events in the past. The situation worsens when Aliya’s sister commits suicide and shortly later her father is arrested. She and her mother shift to her Uncle’s place where the situation is far from perfect, men engrossed in the political happenings in the country and women who only dream of stepping outside the house. Aliya keeps herself busy in her books and studies and dreams of a free life one day and that forms the rest of the story.

This book is a fine feminist classic with the courtyard as the central setting, with respect to the bygone era where the courtyard was a place where women used to gather together. I loved how the book had a feminist tone, which was very ahead of its time. It was a very difficult review to write as I had so many thoughts while reading it.

Aliya’s intellectual views are very strong and she is a very strong headed person. I love how her character was written with so much conviction. Her mother and grandmother’s character are symbolic to how women unknowingly fed patriarchy and allowed it to thrive. The condition of women living in those days was very claustrophobic.

The men in this book also play a prominent role in the narration, but it’s a feminist book in all its glory! Aliya’s inner conflicts are written with maturity and we are able to empathize with her. Speaking of empathy, the book also empathizes towards the Hindu refugees who had to leave their homes in Pakistan after the partition.

This is not a partition or a political novel per say. Overall this is a masterpiece and I finished it in two days. Please also read the Afterword by Daisy Rockwell as it will help you to understand the book better, it’s a treasure trove. This book releases on October 10, 2018, so be sure to keep an eye on it as you don’t want to miss out on this one!!

Thank you to Penguin India and the editor, Ambar Sahil Chatterjee for providing me with the early copy. Picture and opinions are my own.

You can pre-order a copy for yourself here.

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