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Killing Honour

Here is a review of a book that came in my way recently.  


A YOUNG woman with a potentially bright future succumbs to an arranged marriage to a man from the same clan to honour her family’s wishes only to be trapped in an abusive union. Woman turns to family for support but is shunned because she is now the husband’s property. By then, it is all too late and her fate is a sealed tragedy.

Sounds like an overworked plot? But here’s the thing. It isn’t the plot in Bali Rais Killing Honour although it is the backbone to the story. What makes the British author’s new book different is that Rai has cleverly approached the common plot from a fresh angle, making it dynamically interesting.

I read Killing Honour in one sitting, with minimal toilet and texting breaks. Then I went to bed only to experience parts of the scenes from the chapters being re-enacted in a series of disturbing dreams. It was pretty haunting, not in a nightmarish way but in way that prompted a sad realisation that some outdated cultural practices are still being honoured in these modern times, and in doing so, sometimes killing honour itself. Ironic but true.

The story centres on a young Punjabi Sikh named Sat who is determined to find his married sister who vanished under suspicious circumstances. Although the in-laws, the Atwals, claim that she has eloped with her Muslim lover, Sat crosses boundaries to discover the truth despite hurdles thrown up from his own family, who believe that their daughter is a disgrace.

With conservative values woven through modern mores set against a background of sex, drugs and brutality, Sat’s story begins in Leicester, England, and he narrates it in 28 chapters. Adding to the stark narration are independent, supporting texts randomly interspersed between the chapters.

I love Rai’s writing style: easy and fuss free without any serious dips into frilly emotional jamborees given the nature and density of the book’s subject. The clean and clinical style makes reading the book much like watching an episode of TV’s Criminal Minds.

I felt that Rai’s portrayal of his community’s sentiments is spot on, recognising them from when a Punjabi friend of mine became somewhat of an outcast for taking a non-Punjabi husband. Many Punjabi friends have told me that they’d only marry a Sikh because it is their community’s natural expectation of them. “Race and religion doesn’t matter to me but I’d still marry a Punjabi Sikh. If I don’t do that, my mother would be very, very upset. It won’t be the same again, ” a male friend said recently.

Another friend, a British Punjabi, was married off to a girl who was hand-picked by his grandmother from India. The pair was happy for a while, but after a couple of years when her residency came through, she divorced him, almost stripping him off all he owned.

Having said that, when you pick up this book, read it with an open mind. Those with no concept of certain long-held beliefs among Asians may find the key issue in the book totally intolerable in today’s world. While arranged marriages and the spirit of keeping the “herd” close among some cultures may be viewed with anything ranging from disbelief to disgust, it probably does work for some people.
 

Comments

  1. I think arranged marriages work for people who want to have arranged marriages. If remaining close to your family is of overriding important, I can see the logic in giving your parents a say in who your spouse will be. As for honour killings, the sooner that barbaric custom dies out the better.

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  2. Three people are currently on trial for an “honour killing” near Toronto (in Kingston, Ontario). Four people were killed – a mother and three daughters. Such a tragedy.

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  3. This actually sounds really good Jaya. These kind of things appeal to me although the murders are pretty damn horrible, I wish this whole honour killing thing should seriously stop, religion can sometimes really be a terrible thing when these sort of things happen.

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  4. thanks for the review, seems interesting, I'm sorry that I'm loosing the habit to read in paper :/

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  5. My girlfriend's mom was technically in an arranged marriage. She said she had a choice to back out, so I guess that's okay. Her family's American-born relatives never experienced such a marriage though.

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  6. Yeah arranged marriages only work if the people involved are open to them, but then what do I know..haha

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  7. gb -yeah its for those who surrender themselves to it or for those who go into it with an open mind. honour killing is just crazy barbaric, gb.

    beth - that is a tragedy. i hope the guilty would be punished, and hopefully some learn something from it.

    matthew - true that. this is more of a clan and pride related issue than religion though.

    orang - there are e-books ! :) but i still like a hardcopy that i can flip and slip under the pillow.

    adam - thats alright. if its not forced, i think its fine. at least there was a choice for her.

    pat hatt - what do we know. haha.

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  8. "Honour" and "killing" surely pair into an oxymoron.

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  9. there have been a few cases this year of honor killings here in canada, the most recent being this past summer. a young mother was choked to death on her bed and her body was left for fifteen hours with her 2-year-old son before finally being discovered by her father. it's disgusting what people think they can do to others.

    i'm so interested to read this book. thx for the review!

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  10. I'm very happy you took toilet breaks. Good review.

    Love,
    Lola

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  11. Honour killings must be put an end to. These are barbaric acts that must not be part of our society in this day and age, afterall we aren't living in the dark ages anymore!

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  12. hobbit and nursie - yeah. reflects the story well too.

    2 pesos - go read :p

    interwebs - thanks :p

    kage - your welcome :) it's horrible, isn't it. here in malaysia, honour killings are not heard of..well, at least in these times. keeping by the herd is common but murder is rare.

    lola - thanks Lola.

    meena - welcome here ! true that. its really twisted.

    JAYA J

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  13. I enjoyed the review, although I don't think I'd have picked up the book if I saw it in the bookstore. (I like really, really happy stories)

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  14. terra - glad you did :) i also wouldn't have picked it up if i saw it in the bookstore. we get review copies for free so i thought why not. i'm glad i picked it up though. i like drama and crime and the supernatural :p

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  15. That seems like a good/upsetting book... I love criminal minds, so maybe I'll check it out. Also...you get books for free?? What kind of black magic do you practice to manage that?!?

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  16. “Race and
    religion doesn’t matter to me
    but I’d still marry a Punjabi
    Sikh. If I don’t do that, my
    mother would be very, very
    upset. It won’t be the same
    again, ”

    I do understand this sentiment.

    And what horrifies me most about the honour killings is that the girl is killed by her close blood relatives who brought her up. How ironic is that! I really pity these women who won't know whom to trust.

    ReplyDelete

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