3 out of 4 stars
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It’s a real eye opener!
Salt and Pepper by Maria Akhanji is a truly remarkable read. The innocence of the protagonist and her "salt and pepper perception", her having to experience traumatic events without being able to understand them, are so unique that I would've given this book a top rating. The numerous and annoying grammar omissions, however, leave me no choice except to rate it 3 out of 4 stars.
Ranya is a young Bangladeshi girl. Born in London, she grows up in Dubai, but due to the worsening of her family’s income, she moves to Hayapur, a small village in Bangladesh that she doesn't like. Her life is not an easy one. Neglected and abused by both her parents, she finds comfort in her older sister and often substitute mother, Megha (Di), in her faraway and idealized brother, Yasin Bhaiyya, and in her studies. Through the first-person narrations of Ranya, Di, and Kolsum (Bibha), Bhaiyya's wife, we follow the events of this dysfunctional family that seems bent on destroying the self-worth and independence of its every individual component. Will Ranya's defense mechanisms be able to save her?
The author does an excellent job of portraying the plight of women in the Islamic-oriented Bangladeshi culture. The reader is inevitably drawn to the wretchedness described by the three different female characters. But what I find most revealing is that those same brutalized women become abusers themselves first chance they get. I presume this applies also to Ranya's mother, Amma, although no details are given about her own childhood. Such a damaging chain of exploitation keeps generations of women imprisoned inside an endless cycle of debasement and retaliation, enslaved to the chauvinistic establishment, manipulated to the point they willingly embrace the Islamic rules for women.
Mrs. Akhanji's women grow up with a sense of inferiority that is reinforced by the beatings and the servitude they're forced to endure. Their only means of escape is through marriage, which is the only way they can get empowered. Once done, they go from victims to offenders and exact retribution on all the other women of the family. Ironically, this also happens with the males of Mrs. Akhanji's Salt and Pepper, including Abba, Ranya's father, and we're left to witness how much worse and crueler their treatment really is.
The straight-forward style tinged with that "salt and pepper perception" sharpens the horror of it all. It's just unfortunate that the author has a problem with prepositions, especially when it comes to the verb 'go'. Still, the overall story is so striking that I definitely recommend this book and remain in anxious wait for the second installment!
Salt and Pepper
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