Wow! This was a deeply disturbing read. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more darker the author plunged me into more darkness. I was in such despair that the only way out was to keep reading all the way through, hoping to find some light. It was dark, dark, dark all the way through. At first, I thought the ending was a bit too abrupt and unsatisfying. But then thinking about it later, I felt that this was not meant to be a feel good story in the first place. I actually feel now that the realistic ending gave more credibility to the story.
First things first, the writing…oh, the writing was beautiful, poetic in many places. Only someone with this caliber for writing could handle a difficult subject like human trafficking with such ease and make such a profound impact on the reader.
Last year, I read ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” which is a very powerful nonfiction book about sex slavery and human trafficking. It was a very difficult read but it had a profound impact on me. The fact that all the stories and characters in that book are real made it a powerful read for me. After finishing this book, I remember frantically looking up all the non profit organizations that were mentioned at the end of that book, eager to help the cause.
As I was reading Girls Burn Brighter, there were a few instances when I thought “Wow, this is too dark, is there really a need for this much darkness?” and then I remembered Half the Sky and said to myself “Oh yes, absolutely!”. I feel that the author’s intention is to draw the readers attention to the scale and magnitude of atrocities that are being committed against women around the world. Having all this abuse piled up into one book, especially one that is fictional, may seem like unnecessary to some readers but if we rip apart each incident of exploitation that was mentioned in this book, every incident is real and continues to occur in that part of the world. The hard truth is having all of them occur in the lifetime of one particular woman is not a far reaching possibility in certain parts of the world.
As a woman who grew up in a patriarchal society, I know firsthand what it means to be born as a girl in such a society. Luckily, I grew up in a middle class family, surrounded by educated family members. So, I was spared the fate of a girl being raised in a poor family, mostly surrounded my illiterate family members (both men and women) who have fully embraced patriarchy as a normal way of life. I know for a fact that abuse of women is so normal in such families that no one even blinks an eye at it.
In a hierarchical/patriarchal society, there are several tiers and people are grouped into those tiers based on a combination of various factors : wealth, social status, gender, religious affiliation, caste, etc. Everybody is expected to know their position in the hierarchical system and behave accordingly. A woman who was born in a poor family is placed in the bottom tier of the society. What Shobha Rao did in this book is amazing! She gave a voice to those oppressed, those downtrodden female segments of population who are at the very bottom of the food chain in a deeply hierarchical society. Yes, this is a disturbing read but it is also a reality in some parts of the world unfortunately. We all need to embrace feminist literature like this, be aware of what is going on outside of our own little worlds and think about how we can do our part to address such issues.
With all that said, this book is not for the faint of the heart. There is rape, sexual exploitation, pretty serious domestic abuse, etc. It was a tough read for a sensitive person like me. But I would still encourage everybody to read this because I feel that there is a need for feminist literature of this sort in today’s world. There is a lot that is being done to prevent such atrocities but there is still a lot more that needs to be done. And awareness is the first step. If you want to look at feminism from a non-western perspective, then this is the book for you.
Last but not the least, another aspect of this book that is worth mentioning is the aspect of female friendship. The main characters – Poornima and Savitha – become very good friends. This book is also a celebration of their strength, resilience and friendship. The author shows how powerful a friendship can be, even between two women. I say this last part only because there are so many stereotypes out there about female friendship across various cultures around the world.
With all that said, I would give this book a rating of 4 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️