The Selector of Souls.
THE SELECTOR OF SOULS
SHAUNA SINGH BALDWIN
If one reads Shauna Singh Baldwin's sprawling opus as a cry for social justice for Indian women, it is a compelling read. While the novel encompasses political, religious, caste and class conflicts, it's mainly an examination of the perils of being born female in a fundamentalist patriarchal society.
Baldwin tackles the practice of sex selection and her honesty in dealing with the subject is the initial draw. In the novel, a well-educated, rich mogul and an uneducated bullock cart owner are equally obsessed with sons. Indians' fascination with siring males is linked to deeply entrenched misogynistic attitudes that are sanctioned at all levels of society.
Damini and Anu, the female protagonists, are socialized to believe they are mistakes, freaks of nature, while males are a gift from the gods. The first thought at a daughter's birth is the cost of her wedding.
Baldwin explores the challenges of the selection of souls at both the micro and macro levels. How women cope with the fact that life's resources are reserved for males is captured in stark and poignant detail.
In the first chapter, Damini, a servant, has no choice but to kill her week-old granddaughter, whose father refuses to name her and mother declines to feed her. In Delhi, a beautiful, fair socialite sends her daughter to Canada. Although the two women's lives are galaxies apart, Baldwin's unsettling conclusion is that they share an unnervingly close bond as women.
The most wrenching aspect of the story is how Baldwin exposes girls' lives, which are so often deemed expendable. She has succeeded in advancing girls' plight. However it remains in the hands of Indian society to take up the mantra, "I am woman hear me roar," in order to assert that girls' souls have equal value and that they must be respected. Baldwin is to be commended for her efforts.