Reader's Review of Daughters of Empire
Daughters of Empire tells the story of Amira, a young mother from a comfortable Trinidadian Hindu family. Her husband, Santosh, takes a job in London and she finds herself thrust into an unfamiliar world. Amira is determined to do the right thing, to bring up her three daughters, ‘homemake’ and assimilate into the alien culture of 1970s Mill Hill. Although they a far away, Amira has a supportive and judgemental circle of family and friends in Trinidad who ‘put her right’ on all matters whether or not they are more experienced. The first of many 'mistakes' Amira makes, is allowing her husband to choose the house for their home, according to Amira’s older sister, Ishani. But the choice was enjoyed by Amira and she found it eminently suitable as their home, even though tackling a garden on her own was a novelty.
In the early 1970s the British middle class culture prevailed and religious allegiance and skin tone provided strong lines of division. Even 20 years later, Mill Hill was a difficult community to ‘enter’ for us as a Caucasian, English C of E family – so comparing our respective struggles made me think deeply about what Amira faced. Some aspects described were blatant racial prejudice, not experienced by us (and anyway we came on the scene twenty years later), others were issues of proving ones ‘benefit’ to the community, being prosperous enough to keep up – a peculiar trait of Mill Hill culture that brings acceptance and belonging.
Amira goes about her ‘integration’ with bravery and deep thought. Her spirit is steeped in polite respect for herself and others and pride and most importantly, knowledge of what makes the world a good place to be. She fights for her children’s education at their chosen school and guides the girls through the inevitable dual world they experience. The daughters absorb the new culture more completely as they descend in order of birth. Anjali, the eldest, is truly infused with her Mother’s spirit and beliefs, Satisha is a classic second born and looking for an alternative to Anjali’s path, and Vidya holds Mill Hill and England as close to her as Trinidad. Amira keeps her roots alive with trips home to Trinidad and gives her daughters the gift of Lily and Palli’s summer school to imbibe the discipline and security of her culture.
Three wonderful characters all find their way and soul mates for their journeys. Anjali endures the worst possible defamation, from a person of authority and supposed ‘respect’. She displays all the qualities of her mother as she protects her family from the assault. Lily and Palli are shown to be so much more than school teachers as they display wisdom and understanding to assist Anjali. Satisha eventually realises that aspects of her family culture are to be desired and Vidya jumps into everything with two feet. Vidya’s natural impulsiveness causes her to be ahead of her parents’ ability to speak in judgement and she goes in on the attack in anticipation of their disapproval of her chosen partner.
Amira is protected by her husband’s good job and income but is not spared from the frailties of human kind. Ishami, her sister, and others are valued by Amira from whom she seeks counsel which she absorbs as she charts her path through life, never losing her right to believe and act according to her firmly held values of respect for others and a conviction to understand deeply before passing judgement.
On the back cover of Lakshmi Persaud’s book, Daughters of Empire, there is a comment on which I must wholly disagree. It suggests that the lives of Amira’s three daughters become ‘quite separate stories over which Amira has no control’. This is for you to decide – doesn’t Amira have ultimate control as she so diligently instilled herself and her culture into her children and for each her values became their foundations, supporting them at all times. What more control can a parent have?
Also from the back cover you will read that Lakshmi Persaud was born in Trinidad, is well educated and has lived in Britain since the early 1970s. Lakshmi lives in Mill Hill, North London. I was fortunate to be her neighbour during the 1990s. Lakshmi Persaud’s book, Daughters of Empire, is a real life canvas on a fine cloth, interlaced with Lakshmi’s gift of portrayal. The language and phraseology of dialogue is of Lakshmi herself as she has a keen sensitivity to words and their context and meaning. The dialogue between Lakshmi’s characters is to be enjoyed and you might find yourself, as I did, wishing that those around you would take such care in what they say to each other.
This is a work of beautiful language, thoughtful delivery and a book to heal the soul, make you laugh and make you cry. What a wonderful tapestry of life whether finding your way as an immigrant and or as a parent or merely a newcomer to an unfamiliar area, this book is a joy to read and it radiates understanding, empathy, pride and most of all respect that we would do well to show each other. Mill Hill is fortunate to have been blessed with Lakshmi and her family, they are truly enriching for our community.
P.S. If, as I did, you were foolish enough to read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ please now embrace this book to heal your soul!!