The Daughters of Madurai: A Novel

The Daughters of Madurai: A Novel

by Rajasree Variyar
The Daughters of Madurai: A Novel

The Daughters of Madurai: A Novel

by Rajasree Variyar


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The critically acclaimed novel, now in paperback, is both a heartrending family story and a page-turning mystery about the secrets we must keep to protect those we love. Spanning from 1990s South India to 2019 in Australia, the novel follows Janani, a mother who will do anything to save her unborn daughter, and Nila, a young woman who embarks on a life-changing journey of self-discovery.

Madurai, 1992. A young mother in a poor family, Janani is told she is useless if she can't produce a son—or worse, if she bears daughters. They let her keep her first baby girl, but the rest are taken away as soon as they are born, and murdered. But Janani can't forget the daughters she was never allowed to love. Sydney, 2019. Nila has a secret, one she's been keeping from her parents for too long. Before she can say anything, her grandfather in India falls ill and she agrees to join her parents on a trip to Madurai. Nila knows very little about where her family came from or who they left behind. What she's about to learn will change her forever. While this novel explores the harrowing issue of female infanticide, it's also a universal story about the bond between mothers and daughters, the strength of women, and the power of love in overcoming all obstacles.

Fans of historical and contemporary fiction novels about India such as Alka Joshi's The Henna Artist from the Jaipur Trilogy and Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us, as well as Kristin Hannah’s books exploring sisterhood and mother-daughter relationships, will enjoy Variyar’s poignant debut. This extraordinary work of fiction tells a story that deserves to be read and discussed for years to come.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781454950691
Publisher: Union Square & Co.
Publication date: 03/05/2024
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 46,407
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Rajasree Variyar is an author and short story writer born in Bangalore and raised in Sydney. Her short stories won second prize in the Shooter Literary Magazine short story competition and were longlisted for the Brick Lane Bookshop short story competition. The Daughters of Madurai is Variyar’s debut novel, inspired by a childhood memory of a news segment about a case of female infanticide in her birthplace of Bangalore—and her experience spending time with a grassroots charity in Madurai empowering women and educating girls and boys to help eradicate the practice. A marathoner and self-described history nerd, she lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

A girl is a burden. A girl is a curse.
    I read this in the articles and reports and books I’ve downloaded onto my phone. There are a dozen reasons why so many families in India don’t want a girl. Reasons rooted in India’s centuries-old pastiche of traditions. When she gets married, her parents pay a dowry to the husband’s family. It’s supposed to be her inheritance, her share of their parents’ wealth. It’s illegal. It has been since 1961. But they don’t call it dowry anymore. They are “gifts,” ounces of gold, white goods, land, piling high on her parents’ shoulders, driving them into the dirt. More than one dowry can leave families destitute.
    She doesn’t carry the family name. Without a boy, the family dies. She has no independence of wealth. Until recently, she couldn’t have a bank account without a husband or a father. She could not own property. In the records, in history, she doesn’t exist.
    Her education is basic. She struggles to earn income.
    She can’t perform her parents’ funeral rites. And without those rites, her parents will never reach nirvana.
    In some places, up north, there are so few girls now that they’re kid- napped from other states, sold into marriage in families whose language they don’t know. Sold into slavery.
   The flights, the hops from Madurai to Chennai, Chennai to Sydney, bring me no sleep. Instead I read until my eyes ache.
Madurai, India, 1992
Almost two months before her conception
She does not exist even in thought
Janani knew, the minute the midwife placed her naked, squalling, soft-as-silk daughter in her arms, that she couldn’t lose this one.
    An image came to her mind, burying a bundle gone cold and still in the dirt by the young coconut palm. Her hands drew the hated little body closer.
    Tiny limbs moved in fitful pumps as Janani looked down into a face as round and purple as a mangosteen. The baby’s mouth shifted over the swollen skin of her breast, and her plaintive wail died as she found the nipple and began to feed. Her minute fingers rested against the skin over Janani’s heart.
    Janani watched her in the light of the oil lamp, her eyes trailing along each line of her body, trying to find something that made her less than perfect.
    “Rock, my little peacock.” The lullaby escaped through her lips, the first words she’d managed since that last, pain-riddled push. Hands were fussing around her, tender and papery—Kamala, the old, strong midwife who had delivered most of the rest of Usilampatti district, over what seemed like centuries. Janani barely noticed, until someone spoke.
    “Give her to me.” Pain and weariness turned what should have been a familiar voice into a half-recognized echo.
    No, Janani tried to say. It stayed a tired whisper in her mind.
    She wanted to hold this new life for as long as she could.
    There was a rough fumble, nails scratching against her forearms, and the warmth of new-born, new-drawn skin was gone. Her daughter began to cry again. The noise stuttered into existence like a steam engine’s chugs. The door closed, muffling the sound.
    Was it Shubha? No, no it couldn’t be. Her friend was gone, pushed out, a long time ago, before the pains became so strong Janani forgot what was around her.
    Get up, you idiot, she thought. She raised herself on to one elbow, then rolled on to the other.
    Kamala loomed over her, hands on Janani’s shoulders, gently urging her down onto the thin pallet. Her wrinkles had reshaped themselves into grim worry. “Rest now, child.”
    Janani’s arms were shaking beneath her. She collapsed back on the bed. One hand came down on the mat with an angry thump. She’d lost track of the hours she’d lain here, but exhaustion was drifting over her like fog.
    Sleep dragged her down, blanketing the echo of the baby’s cries.

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