Girls Burn Brighter: A Novel by Shobha Rao

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“But what about love?”

“What is love, Poori?” Savitha said. “What is love if not a hunger?”

When Poornima’s mother dies, her father hires a young girl named Savitha to work the sari loom her mother once toiled at. Though far more poverty-striken than Poori, her passion for life burns brighter than seems possible in such drudgery. Poornima is stunned by the conditions Savitha lives in, piles of trash near the huts, stray dogs sniffing around, cow dung walls, discarded tin for roof, by comparison she and her father live in a palace. That despite these conditions Savitha has a loving bond with her father surprises her. Love isn’t enough, though, in this world that rages against girls and poverty robs families of any hope for the security of their daughter’s future. A deep bond forms between the girls, who become like beloved sisters more than friends. Savitha’s full of wisdom, never one to let her circumstances tarnish her soul until one ill-fated moment, while making a beautiful sari for her beloved friend’s upcoming arranged marriage, a cruel act destroys all hope and causes her to flee. Poornima is left behind, with no other choice than to be a good wife and daughter-in-law too learns what it means to be swallowed by others expectations and cruel demands. She finds out being female is a price to pay, a punishment, a curse. She has never forgotten her dear Savitha, and goes to great extremes to find her.

Savitha’s life takes shocking turns, beyond anything her once sunny disposition would lead her to imagine. Too, the appalling transgressions against women the world over becomes a nightmare Savitha will know too well. In order to escape cruelty, young women find themselves cornered, deceived and trapped. America is the place to start over, but this isn’t the usual immigrant’s tale of hope and freedom. Poornima will do everything she can to find out what happened to Savitha, but will she be able to save herself in the process?

While a tale of friendship,  and strength in the face of adversity it also encompasses terrible cruelties. Much as Poornima was protected when her mother was alive and told to ‘look away’ from the very places Savitha comes from, she quickly learns the world harbors far more horrifying fates. It’s not an easy read so if you are looking for a tale of happy fate, this isn’t for you. It’s at turns humbling and heartbreaking. Wonderfully written, a lot for any book club to chew on.

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Flatiron Books

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