The year is 1937, and Roop, a sixteen-year-old Sikh girl from a small village in Northwestern India, has just been married to Sardarji, a wealthy man in his forties. She is a second wife, married without a dowry in the hope that she will bear children, because Sardarji’s first wife, Satya, a proud, beautiful, combative woman whom he deeply loves, is childless. The wedding has been conducted in haste, and kept secret from Satya until after the fact. Angered and insulted, she does little to disguise her hatred of Roop, and secretly plans to be rid of her after she has served her purpose and given Sardarji a son.
Besides being a landowner, Sardarji is an Oxford-educated engineer, who hopes that he can help India modernize. As a rising man in the Indian Irrigation Department, he works with British engineers, designing canals to help Indian farmers grow food for the country, and hydro dams to bring even greater prosperity by producing electric power. The British have promised India independence some day, but the timing and conditions of their departure have not yet been settled. Sardarji is instinctively conservative and believes that it is better to work with the British rulers than to agitate against them. But many others are working to drive the British out. Unfortunately, the leaders of the independence movement, in arousing nationalistic emotions, are also deepening the the religious divisions between the Hindu and Muslim populations — if India is free, which religion will be the dominant force? The Sikh community, to which Roop, Sardarji and Satya belong, is linked with the Hindus by their common history and some shared traditions, but the Sikhs also have historical grievances against the other religious communities. Intolerance and hatred are growing and the stage is set for bloody conflict.
Shauna Singh Baldwin was born in Montreal and grew up in India. She is the author of English Lessons and Other Stories and the novels What The Body Remembers and The Tiger Claw. Her short fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, and India. From 1991-1994 she was an independent radio producer, hosting "Sunno!" the East-Indian-American radio show where you don't have to be East-Indian to listen.
Shauna holds an M.B.A. from Marquette University. Her first novel, What the Body Remembers, was published in 1999. It has been translated into eleven languages, and was awarded the 2000 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best Book, Canada/Caribbean region. The Tiger Claw, published in 2004, was nominated for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize.
Shauna's awards include India's international Nehru Award (gold medal) for public speaking, and the national Shastri Award, a silver medal for English prose. She is the recipient of the 1995 Writer's Union of Canada Award for short prose and the 1997 Canadian Literary Award. English Lessons received the 1996 Friends of American Writers Award.
"A stunning first novel…. Intensely atmospheric — an artistic triumph."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[She] displays the gifts of a first-rate social observer [and] passionately records the longings, losses and compromises of her characters' lives."
—Winnipeg Free Press
"The characters shimmer with life, their predicaments grab the reader by the throat, their fate has the reader on the edge of the seat—. An enthralling read [that] offers a glimpse of humanity that is both intimate and universal."
—The Times (UK)
"An impressive debut."
—The National Post
"…a shining new novel—What the Body Remembers heralds the arrival not only of a significant new talent, but also of a fresh perspective on history, rarely experienced before."
—The Readers Showcase
"Shines—an ambitious debut."
“Wonderful! Wonderful! I just finished What the Body Remembers — what an amazing novel! I
feel it has expanded my understanding of the world vastly. And as a writer, I feel nourished, replenished. I drink your words!”
“An epic of heartbreak and honour set in Northwest India in the dying light of the Raj…. Painstakingly researched, its characters frankly convincing, and set against a rich backdrop of gods, politics and tradition, this novel earned its Montreal-born author the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2000 for Best Book in Canada and the Caribbean.”
—National Post, Dec. 30/2000
"I very much admired the strength and control with which the author keeps her complex story going, and at the same time keeps it clear, and true to the spirit of India."
“If you’re one of those readers of novels who likes to think ahead, you might want to clear some space on the bedside table for What the Body Remembers… It’s not going to be out for another year, but already the buzz is stuff of the highest voltage…. The Next Big Thing.”
—Stephen Smith, “Grub Street”, The Globe and Mail
—The Globe and Mail
“Baldwin describes the scenes of the Independence movement with great verve. For the subcontinent, Partition was the most momentous event of the 20th century. But men who were affected by it…have written most of the literature. This is a woman’s perspective. And because women suffered most when their homes were uprooted, this book becomes a more intimate account.”
“While What the Body Remembers will be read as a story of familial relations, it will be remembered more as social history — the customs, traditions and mores of rural Punjab, many still unchanged.”
—India Today, September 1999
"an impressive first novel, hype or no hype. Baldwin’s passion for re-membering her dis-membered homeland, and her desire to tell women’s version, propel the last half of the novel and make it particularly potent."
—Quill & Quire
“A richly textured often poetic story … Newcomer Baldwin’s theme — the grueling uses to which women’s bodies and spirits are put, and their abuses at the hands of men — combines with the political analogue of India’s struggle for independence to produce a lush, sensuous drama.”
“What the Body Remembers is an engaging story of life in pre-partition India, and a compassionate look at the lives of its two protagonists — Sikh women who are practically voiceless within their own culture…History is merely a background to the domestic story, but its intimacy is what makes this novel work…What the Body Remembers is a worthwhile read.”
“…a shining new novel…What the Body Remembers heralds the arrival not only of a significant new talent, but also of a fresh perspective on history, rarely experienced before.”
—The Readers Showcase.
“…Baldwin both overwhelms and educates as she takes readers on this crowded and eventful ride through the complexities of life in 20th century India.”
“Shimmers with life…An enthralling read.”
—The Times (UK)