Published: 17 August 2010
Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family; her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of the family. Sudha is as beautiful, tenderhearted, and serious as Anju is plain, whip-smart, and defiant. yet since the day they were born, Sudha and Anju have been bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend.
The cousins' bond is shattered, however, when Sudha learns a dark family secret. Urged into arranged marriages, their lives take sudden, opposite turns: Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household, while Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. Then tragedy strikes them both, and the women discover that, despite the distance that has grown between them, they have only each other to turn to. Set in the two worlds of India and America, this is an exceptionally moving novel of love, friendship, and compelling courage.
Sudha and Anju were born on the same day when their respective mothers went into premature labour after hearing their husbands had died.
Raised in the same house, the girls become as close as sisters, but their bond is threatened when Sudha learns the true nature of her relationship to Anju. Although she decides to keep the secret to herself, Sudha begins to drift away from a bewildered Anju and believing she deserves nothing more from life, she agrees to an arranged marriage. Sudha is already in love with Ashok but when his marriage offer is not accepted by her mother, Sudha puts aside her plans to elope with him when she realises the scandal may jeopardise Anju’s marriage to Sunil. However, things become even more complicated when Anju realises Sunil is in love with Sudha and she is the consolation prize.
Sister of my Heart is a beautifully written story exploring the bonds formed between women within the same household. Although the principal relationship is between Sudha and Anju, I also loved the bonds that developed between them and their three mothers, Gouri (Anju’s mother), Nalini (Sudha’s mother) and Pishi (Anju’s paternal aunt), all of whom have their own unique outlook on life. Despite the fact the Chatterjee household has no patriarch, the women are still very much bound by society’s expectations and the girls lead a very sheltered life as a result. In the Indian culture, widows are held responsible for the deaths of their husbands which is often put down to some wrongdoing on the woman’s part in a previous life, so our widows are extremely lucky to have each other as support.
The primary focus for the mothers is to ensure their daughters receive an excellent education so they can marry well, however when circumstances change, the college plans are abandoned in favour of arranging good marriages. There are a lot of strong female characters in this story which is hardly surprising considering the subject matter but the author really does an injustice to her male characters who are portrayed as weak men who invariably fail the women in their lives in some way. I would’ve preferred a much more balanced approach here because the author doesn’t need to use the inadequacies of the men to ensure we grasp the full extent of the inseparable bond between Anju and Sudha. The bond between the girls is at its strongest during their childhood before the dark secrets are revealed but I found it less convincing as the girls matured. I suppose guilt plays a large part in Sudha’s decision to walk away from Ashok to ensure Anju’s happiness but the whole thing is just too weak to be plausible and ends up being rather pointless in the end.
The story is told in alternating chapters from Anju and Sudha, but I found myself liking Sudha more as Anju becomes increasingly irritating, especially when she realises her husband is in love with her best friend. While Sudha’s habit of weaving fairytales around her life often removes her from reality, I found her stories enchanting, and there were times when the whole narrative seemed to take on a fairytale quality. There are a few twists along the way, but they are easy to work out so they fall a wee bit flat. The novel ends rather abruptly with a lot of threads left hanging which was a disappointment but I’ve since discovered there is a sequel, although it doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle at the moment.