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What the Body Remembers

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,546 ratings  ·  184 reviews
Introducing an eloquent, sensual new Canadian voice that rings out in a first novel that is exquisitely rich and stunningly original.
Roop is a sixteen-year-old village girl in the Punjab region of undivided India in 1937 whose family is respectable but poor -- her father is deep in debt and her mother is dead. Innocent and lovely, yet afraid she may not marry well, she is
Unbound, 515 pages
Published September 7th 1999 by Knopf Canada (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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Sujata Massey
Sep 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Missy J
Finally, I finished reading this. For my book club's India journey, we read this for "Northern India". This novel is set in Punjab and focuses on a Sikh family. I've never encountered such a setting before so that was interesting. But boy was this book just as wordy as our "Southern India" book choice, The Forgotten Daughter.

'What the Body Remembers' is set right before the Partition of British India. We meet Roop, a teenage girl from a Punjab Sikh family, who is quite naive and materialistic
I originally started this book in Feb 2013 and didn't get far before I set it aside to possibly attempt another time. It was a challenge that was the deciding factor in pulling it back off the shelf and wiping the dust off the cover. I'm glad I did.

I enjoyed this intricate tale of three people embroiled in the dynamics of a marriage with two wives amidst the backdrop of a time when having a second wife was beginning to be socially frowned upon. That alone could have made an interesting story,
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Book Concierge
Oct 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of literary fiction
5***** and a

This is an extraordinary book. The novel deals with the struggles to form Pakistan, when Muslims fought Sikhs and Hindus, and with the traditional culture vs the modern expectations. It is also a tale of woman and her place in the world. Roop is just 16 when she becomes the second wife of Sandaji (needed because 1st wife Satya is still barren after 20 years). How Roop grows and matures, how Satya descends to madness with jealousy and hatred are themes that mirror the division of
Catherine Siemann
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Alexa Haden
Nov 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! If you don't know much about the partition of India and Pakistan thus is a great way to find out about it, as well as some bits of Indian culture wrapped up in a story I couldn't put down!
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is about the period of India's independence and the separation of Pakistan and India. Primarily the book is set in Punjabi, the state that was divided by the separation. The story is told from the perspective of a Sikh engineer and his two wives.

I found the start of the book and the story of the two women really interesting. Oddly enough, the last part of the book where everything happens kind of lost me a bit. What I did get from the story is that this was a violent and confusing
Ridhima Agarwal
"Sometimes we choose to die because it is the only way to be both heard and seen."

A wonderfully written description of the 1947 Partition, as told from a woman's perspective. Not many books talk about the things a woman or in this case, a young girl had to go through during those times. This one does and delivers splendidly. Worth a read.

Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was bored to death
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not an easy read but a clever interweaving of a family's history with that of the country - India. Told from the perspective of Sikhs about whom I knew little in the partition.
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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 ...more
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kathleen Schmitt
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Dec 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
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
Noor Anand
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the third time i've read this book over the years and it remains one of the most powerful, emotional and enduring novels i've come across.

What starts as a book exploring the relationships of two women married to the same man during the early 20th century in undivided Punjab, turns into so much more.

A commentary on the state of women in India (still surprisingly the same to a large extent), the internal tussle a person faces between modernising and sticking to one's traditions, how
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So many elements are described in the book that in the end I was wondering which had the deepest impact on me. Although the character of Roop reminded me of Scout from 'To kill a mockingbird', it is Satya alone who shines, best in times when Roop adapts her behavior subconsciously to her 'sister'.
But the book is foremost about South Asia and the seeped patriarchy; about honor/izzat and how women are the sole carriers of this malaise.

Without adding any spoilers, I would recommend this book to
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
Aug 12, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Set in mid-20th-century India before it was partitioned. It was apparently trying to set up the tentions among Sikhs, Hindus, & Moslems, but used so much arcane terminology & assumed knowledge of cultural practices that I found it too difficult to follow.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars

Roop and Satya live in undivided India, in the region of Punjab which now belongs to Pakistan. Roop, who should have been born as a daughter to Satya, is instead born to be her saukan – second wife to her husband, Sardarji, because she cannot bear him children. This is a story of these three characters, and others, who are related to them by blood and otherwise. This is a story of suffering, injustice and loss, set in a time of peace, but turns upside down by the end of it.

A lyrical and lengthy reflection on India in the time of the Partition, told through the eyes of people who had almost no influence on India's history during that time -- Sikhs and women.

Sardarji is a wealthy Sikh landowner in Punjab. He is UK-educated as an engineer and rescues his family estates from bankrupcy and inefficiency. His first wife is Satya, an articulate and confident woman with a sharp mind and a sharp tongue. Satya is well-suited to Sardarji, they love and respect each other,
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving it four stars just because I feel it was hard to connect with from a writing style point of view. But this book is rich with history. As many details as the book had about this time in history and all the nuances of different people's emotions and tradgedies surrounding the British, Ghandi's part in it all and how the Partition took place, I felt sometimes there were swaths of time missing in the happenings surrounding Roop's life. Like when Roop went back to her village and all of a ...more
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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.
“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.”
“Learning is just remembering slowly, like simmer coming to boil.” 5 likes
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