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What the Body Remembers

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  1,658 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Out of the rich culture of India and the brutal drama of the 1947 Partition comes this lush and eloquent debut novel about two women married to the same man.

Roop is a young girl whose mother has died and whose father is deep in debt. So she is elated to learn she is to become the second wife of a wealthy Sikh landowner in a union beneficial to both. For Sardajiâ's first wi
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Paperback, 471 pages
Published January 16th 2001 by Anchor (first published 1999)
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The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe White Tiger by Aravind AdigaMidnight's Children by Salman RushdieThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Best Indian Books
101st out of 595 books — 1,767 voters
Midnight's Children by Salman RushdieTrain to Pakistan by Khushwant SinghCracking India by Bapsi SidhwaWhat the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh BaldwinA Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
Books about the Indian Subcontinental Partition
4th out of 72 books — 56 voters


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Community Reviews

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Sujata Massey
Wow! This may be the best Indian historical novel I've read to date. For about a week and a half, I was utterly swept up in the world of Roop and Satya, the two wives of Sardarji Singh, a wealthy Sikh landowner who also works as an engineer for the British Indian government in 1940s Punjab. Through the lives of these women, the story of the desperate struggle of Sikhs to remain in their homeland of Punjab, is beautifully illustrated. They face sexism from their fathers and husbands, always encou ...more
Rowena
I read this book with my bookclub ; it was chosen because three of the members are Canadian-born Sikh and wanted to learn more about their history.

I've read many books set in India over the years but this is the first book I've read by a Sikh author. Like many other books that discuss Indian culture, this goes into a lot of detail about British colonialism in the country, as well as the many religious beliefs and languages.

The story itself was quite sad. As a woman, I couldn't help but empathi
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Angela
I've just put the book down and will need some time to process everything. But as you can see, I've given it 5 stars and strong recommendations to my friends to read this beautiful elegy to undivided Punjab.

This is a book that takes time to sink in. The horrors of the mass migration are in these pages, the riots, rape, and village burning. It's very hard to read but Shauna Singh Baldwin treats the difficult material with incredible tenderness and empathy. In fact, you'd think that seeing all the
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Lori Bamber
The reader/writer connection wasn't successful for me in the early third of this book -- there were too many times I found myself thinking about the writing style rather than the story. Part of the reason for that was a number of what one of my favourite creative writing teachers called the "editorial lump" -- where the writer steps out of the story and catches us up on world events, philosophy -- anything but the story.

Towards the end, I was totally over that, as I realized how difficult it wa
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Smitha
Roop, one of Bachan Singh’s two daughters, grows up without her mother. Her father, a respected however not-too-well-off a person in the village, does his best in bringing up his daughters and son.

Roop grows up believing that she is destined to a better life. When Bachan Singh gets a proposal from one of the wealthiest men in the village for his daughter, he is delighted, only to be disappointed when he realizes that it is not for one of the wealthy man’s sons. but for an already married relativ
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Jaspreet
What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin is one of my favorite books of all time! I wish I had read this book sooner. It took me almost eight weeks to finish the book; I read in intervals because I had to take detours to complete other reading commitments.

The book centers around three main characters: Roop, who at the age of sixteen, becomes a second wife to a rich landowner; Satya the landowner's first wife who is childless and struggles to maintain her status when a new woman comes int
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Ming
A lush, beautiful read. Her writing is steady, graceful and confident. The story is compelling while being subtle as it grasps the reader's attention and imagination. I found the depiction of the Partition of India from a Sikh perspective refreshing and engaging. And it is certainly one of the best (perhaps of 3-5 such stories) on this historic and horrifying event. I am convinced that Partition continues to have an impact today, including on us in the U.S. There are many lessons and insights, h ...more
Victoria
Shauna Singh Baldwin brings to life India before and during WWII, and most especially after the war has ended, during decolonization and the making of divided India. This moving story centers around two women, Satya and Roop, wives to the same man, beautiful characters who made me feel all glowy and proud to be a woman. The story has left me somewhat enlightened on the differences and similarities among Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. And it sent me rushing through my highschool and university histor ...more
Catherine Siemann
The story of Sardarji, an English-educated Sikh engineer in India during the last days of British rule, but more centrally of his two wives. Satya is Sardaji's contemporary, strong-willed and well-suited to him, but unable to have children. Roop, his much younger second wife, is an independent child, when we first meet her, but soon gives way to societal expectations that she be "good-good, sweet-sweet." The tensions between the three, and the restricted roles placed on Satya and Roop, are at th ...more
Luz Balthasaar
I expected to finish Wolf Totem this month, but my boss unexpectedly recommended this book. I'm glad I followed her suggestion.

The book tells a story which resonates deeply with my own views; being a middle-ground-sort of person in a world that forces people to take sides is tough, especially if you were a woman, and were not afraid to speak out.

Ms. Baldwin's writing is beautiful; sometimes I paused and re-read a paragraph or a sentence just to admire how she describes things and tells her stor
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☕Laura
I really liked this book. I thought the character development was good, the writing style enjoyable, and the storyline interesting. It is the story of Roop, a naive young Sikh girl who becomes the 2nd wife to Sardarji, much to the dismay of his first wife, Satya. Roop quickly learns that this arrangement is not going to be the bed of roses she had expected it to be. The relationship between the two wives and between Sardarji and each wife is quite complex. The story is told against the backdrop ...more
Angel
If the circle that is your body falls on a ladder inscribed on the game board of time, you climb.If it lands on a snake,you slip-slide back.Resume your journey again.

And if you do not learn what you were meant to learn from your past lives,you are condemned to repeat them.

This is Karma.


This is what got me hooked!

I loved this book...you travel with Roop as if your really their and at times I swear I could taste and smell what I was reading,and would have to come to relisation I was at home sittin
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Mary
I was drawn to this book because I like historical novels that are set in countries prior to/during their independence. I think that I understand more about the historical vicissitudes if I am having it filtered through characters in a novel who can (and should) express opinions on them. I was not disappointed with What the Body Remembers for its approach on British India and the independence (as well as the creation of Pakistan), and was happy to read the point of view from the Sihks, which is ...more
Naheed Hassan
I recently re-read What The Body Remembers and was surprised at how much had stayed with me from my first reading. First of all is the absolutely gorgeous cover - one of my favourites - which makes you want to display the book as much as read it. And then there are the characters - Sardarji, progressive and modern, educated in England and impressed with everything British. And yet, when it comes to the critical matter of children, an especially a son to carry on his name, he brings home a second ...more
Kathleen Schmitt
WHAT THE BODY REMEMBERS
Shauna Singh Baldwin

An engrossing and fascinating story of the two Sikh wives of a wealthy Sikh man at the time of the Partition of India and Pakistan. The majority of the story unfolds the realities of the lives of Sikh women in that era in minute detail. Readers of other faiths and perspectives learn a great deal about Sikh life and culture, and how once Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims lived as neighbours until the British fanned the fires of dissent as a ploy to “divide and c
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Imran
Brilliant.

Liked the way story was told.

Learnt many things about Sikh history and culture and how it forms psyche of Sikh people.

Thoroughly enjoyed this concise and poetic piece related to Punjab's history:

When the Wind-God, Vayu, bearer of the perfume, God of all northwest India, blows through the Suleimans, he snakes his way through the Khyber Pass to Punjab. There he crosses the Indus and chases his shadow across the city in the bowl at the base of Margalla Hills. When angry he brings dust st
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Rebecca Hecking
Fascinating historical fiction, set in undivided (and then in-the-process-of-dividing) India in the first half of the 20th century. If offers a glimpse into a changing world, through the eyes of characters who grow into themselves over time. I did put it on my "challenging read" shelf mostly because of the author's use of Indian names/terms that may prove somewhat confusing for the reader. Many times, I found myself looking up a word such as izzat or chunni to see what the meaning was. This isn' ...more
Bigsna
The last 100 pages of the book are heartbreaking, moving and sad. But they are also the story of so many people and families torn from the place they called home due to the India - Pakistan partition.

In the larger more political scenario that unfolds in an India that is struggling to be free and where Hindus and Muslims are asking for their fair shares, their very own "pure" nations - the Sikhs find themselves in the center of this divide, wanting nothing less than their own nation too - but be
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Pam Rivera
After reading The Tiger's Claw by the same author, I was quite excited when my book club chose this book as a selection for this year. I really struggled with this book, however.

The writing was beautiful with great imagery and insightful comments. I enjoyed the central story of Roop, Satya, and Sardarji. I found the history and culture interesting. The book provided us with a fantastic discussion. I just got bogged down in the Punjabi words that I couldn't always decipher the meaning of, the mu
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Laura
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linh
I found this book difficult to start as there were a lot of cultural references that I didn't get. Once you read past the first 100 pages or so the storyline develops into quite an unforgettable story of the struggles the characters faced. I felt that the ending was a bit dragged on and had a hard time finishing it.

What the Body Remembers illustrates the difference between what it's like to be a man and what it's like to be a women in India during the 1940s. How a man's world is outside of the
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Diane
The background of the book is the years before and during independence and partition of India from a Sikh point of view. This book joins a number of good books set in pre WW II India and dealing with independence and partition. It is not on the level of Midnight’s Children nor Toss of a Lemon, but it is good and worth reading, especially because of the Sikh viewpoint.

I was impressed that the author used two women to tell the story. Roop is a girl whose mother died young and whose father is now m
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Julie
I think I would actually give this book 3.5 stars. I really enjoyed reading about it because I was pretty ignorant of this history of India/Pakistan as well as the different cultures and religions practiced in these areas. At points I felt the books was a little too long and some of the paragraphs were pretty esoteric and I didn't fully understand. I enjoyed the snipets of poetry included in the book. A wide variety of characters were portrayed, which I enjoyed, but I wasn't too emotionally atta ...more
Shira
I was disappointed in this book. I picked it up mainly because it is a work of historical fiction about a time period that I know little about (i.e. Indian independence from Britain and the ensuing war between amongst Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims as the country was partitioned into India and Pakistan). But instead of helping me to learn about this time period, I was mainly confused because the author didn't provide enough background information for those unfamiliar with this historical period. Also ...more
Sally Boots
What the Body Remembers is complex and beautiful novel that exceeded my expectations. The story centers around Roop, the young second wife of Sardarji, as well as Sardarji himself and his jealous first wife, Satya. It takes place before and during Britain’s withdrawal from India and leads us right through the violence and chaos that follow the partition. I put the book down halfway through because I couldn't bear the heartbreak that hung over Roop’s life, and because I was dreading the impending ...more
Louise
A stunning novel that'll keep you reading late into the night.

"It's 1937, and with her father in debt, motherless 16-year-old Roop learns she is to become the second wife of Sardarji, a wealthy Sikh landowner whose first wife, Satya, has failed to bear him a child. Roop believes that the strong-willed Satya will treat her as a sister, but their relationship swiftly becomes ominous and complicated. WHAT THE BODY REMEMBERS is also Satya's story. Mortified when Sardarji marries Roop, satya resorts
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LibraryCin
It is India in the years leading up to independence from England and Partition, when the country will be divided into India and Pakistan. Roop has no mother, but has a father who is poor. When she is 16, out of desperation, her father arranges a marriage to a 40 year old man for her. Unfortunately, she is to be the second wife to this man. Though Roop hopes to be like sisters with his first wife, Satya, Satya doesn't see things that way.

I thought it took a long time for the story to really get
...more
LibraryCin
It is India in the years leading up to independence from England and Partition, when the country will be divided into India and Pakistan. Roop has no mother, but has a father who is poor. When she is 16, out of desperation, her father arranges a marriage to a 40 year old man for her. Unfortunately, she is to be the second wife to this man. Though Roop hopes to be like sisters with his first wife, Satya, Satya doesn't see things that way.

I thought it took a long time for the story to really get g
...more
Writerlibrarian
Une auteur à découvrir. Elle est née à Montréal mais a grandi aux Indes. Son roman “la mémoire du corps” a reçu en 2000 le prix Commonwealth Writers pour le meilleur roman pour la région Canada/Antilles.

L’Inde au moment de la partition est racontée à travers la vie de deux femmes Satya et Roop. Toutes deux épouses de Sardarji qui lorsque Satya n’a pu lui donner les fils qu’il désirait, a épousé la jeune Roop qui lui donnera trois enfants.

Dépaysement total pour les lecteurs. Shauna Singh Baldwin
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Penny
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Shauna Singh Baldwin is a Canadian-American novelist of Indian descent. Her 2000 novel What the Body Remembers won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Canadian/Caribbean Region), and her 2004 novel The Tiger Claw was nominated for the Giller Prize. She currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Baldwin and her husband own the Safe House, an espionage themed restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
More about Shauna Singh Baldwin...
The Tiger Claw The Selector of Souls English Lessons & Other Stories We Are Not in Pakistan We Are So Different Now - A Stage Play with Dance

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“I do not need to understand words to know he is disappointed I am not a boy. Some things need no translation. And I know, because my body remembers without benefit of words, that men who do not welcome girl-babies will not treasure me as I grow to woman - though he call me princess just because the Guru told him to.

I have come so far, I have borne so much pain and emptiness!

But men have not yet changed.”
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“Learning is just remembering slowly, like simmer coming to boil.” 5 likes
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