cover image The Daughters of Madurai

The Daughters of Madurai

Rajasree Variyar. Union Square, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4549-4876-6

Variyar explores the impact of infanticide on an Indian Australian family in her wrenching debut. In 2019 Sydney, Nila struggles with coming out to her parents as a lesbian. When she learns her paternal grandfather is terminally ill, she agrees to visit him with her parents in India. A parallel narrative set in 1990s Madurai follows Nila’s mother, Janani, as a young woman struggling with extreme poverty, an abusive mother-in-law, Vandhana; a drunken husband; and the loss of two baby girls to murder. Girls are useless, according to Vandhana, who arranges for the killing of Janani’s babies, and a woman who can’t produce a son, even more so. After Janani becomes pregnant again with another girl, she enlists the help of her friends Shubha and Sanjay (the latter of whom becomes Nila’s father when he and Janani eventually marry) and Sanjay’s aunt Priya to fight back against a tradition that would demand she murder her child. Though the love story between Sanjay and Janani is a bit drawn out, and there are some unnecessary late-breaking plot turns, the gripping account of the family’s struggle to save Nila will keep readers on the hook, as will the tension between Nila and Janani as Nila tries to find a way to share her identity. Despite its flaws, the complex mother-daughter story will move readers. (Feb.)