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Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  204 ratings  ·  30 reviews
In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a “coolie”—the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many coolies, disappeared into history. In Coolie Woman—shortlisted for the 2014 Orwell Prize—her great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur ...more
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published October 30th 2013 by University of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Manjul Bajaj
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

Gaiutra Bahadur does a remarkable job in tracing the story of her great grandmother Sujaria, an indentured single woman who traveled from India in 1903 to work on a sugar plantation in Guyana. The narrative is a multi-layered exploration of exile, colonialism, gender dynamics in a world of mercilessly skewed gender ratios, the ensuing jealousies and violence against women spoiled for choice of sexual partners and the forging of a new community identity shaped in equal parts by what has
Nov 18, 2013 added it
A work of remarkable excavation, shedding light on the history of indenture- not only as a system, but its impact on diaspora identity too.In this regard, one hopes Bahadur's efforts inspires further research into the system of indenture, which ostensibly served to replace slavery but may also have offered reprieve for the many Indian men and women boarding those ships. The desire, particularly for woman, to seek exile from their existing social predicaments- yet only to endure another form of s ...more
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding book, at a superficial level its kind of an anthropological who-dun-it of looking back towards the Indian Diaspora in Br. Guyana from the indentured laborers imported there by the Brits, but at a deeper level, its about the immigrants angst, the forging of a sense of identity and the insightful clarity obtained when finally clear of the miasma-inducing haze. Outstanding!
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A superb work, merging autobiography, family history and careful archival research into the bowels of empire. The book is a perfect, powerful illustration of what it means to think historically—about gender, about culture, and about our strange world of migrant diasporas.
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
an incredibly readable and fascinating history and analysis. if I had read more history books written like this one, I'd be a historian. this book tells how the indenture institution was established and how women in particular under this system took on drastically different roles. using her personal story as a jumping off point, the author uncovers the context in which her great-grandmother left British Raj India to go to the Caribbean. The connection to slavery and colonialism is bare and neces ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
A remarkable project of important historical research. Bahadur asks and finds answers to many of the tough, important and missing questions that comprise the identity of people like myself: constantly searching for a sense of self but unable to find attachment or connection to a firm identify due to a lack of knowledge of my forebears' lives and thus, my own history.
Maia Ellis
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
As a person of Guyanese origin, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was an incredibly engrossing and wonderful historical piece. I found this book to be thought provoking and highly recommend it.
AMERICAN journalist Gaiutra Bahadur takes you on a journey through her family history and how as an Indian she came to live in America.
In 1903 her great-grandmother sailed from India to Guiana in South America to work as a coolie – the British name given to the millions of indentured labourers recruited to work on sugar plantations worldwide after slavery ended.
Bahadur’s great-grandmother was pregnant and travelling alone.
During that time Indian women were subjected to very strict religious and
Jun 13, 2015 rated it liked it
As a researcher on a similar topic I'm thankful for the sources here but this text has little to do with an individual family history and more to do with a search for it in general historical terms that may or may not have actually been relevant in the agency and individual choices of the ancestors she seeks. Much like other diaspora research, there are about 50 pgs of speculation which undermines (for me) the power of the actual historical data that personalizes the social phenomena and the leg ...more
Sumit Mishra
What is commendable about this book is the research done by the author in the quest for tracing her roots. But the account has turned into more of a research paper than a personalized story of her great grandmother's leaving of India as a Coolie Woman.

The book comes out to be one of it's kind to put in detail little-known history of the indentures from India to Sugarcane Plantations under British Empire. The complexities shape life and morals of the indentures. Life is changed in the form unima
a wonderful book--deeply researched w/poetics that surges up in surprising, generous places--that contributes to histories of indian indentured labor in guyana & the caribbean. i admire the readings of gender, sexuality, bondage, and violence, for astounding revelations on how such work offered both burdens and blessings, very much through today.
Words can't describe this heartbreaking and powerful account of Badahur's journey to shed light on her indentured ancestors. The story of these incredibly strong and brave women need to be told and Badahur does so expertly. Very tough to get through in places given the subject matter, but an absolute must read for anyone interested in Caribbean and Indian history.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-books
A fantastic book. Thoroughly researched and superbly written.
Janice Sheufelt
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
Interesting topic, but read more like a compilation of research articles rather than a cohesive work.
Matt Cappo
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is, by far, one of the most well-researched explorations into as person’s ancestral history that I have ever read. The book does many things well that others in the genre might: you do bear an honest witness of an author’s frantic pursuit for their identity; you do learn what can be learned about the adventure of their ancestor; and you do get some tantalizingly deep primary research into someone’s family history. However, on top of all that, you also get an entire survey of the women’s pos ...more
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Riveting, engaging and accessible, this is story of Indian female indentured labour in Guyana. The story was sparked by the writer's family history and is an incredible read for anyone interested in the history of migration, history of women or just an incredible story of women who would otherwise be forgotten. Arguably it raises more questions than it could have possibly hoped to answer - but that, in my opinion is the point of history - to start and continue the conversation.
Antonia Mohamed
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Found this book hard to follow. It seemed to jump around a lot from one person's story to the next. No real transition or flow. Was hoping for a more personal story or more of the author's personal family experiences.
Andrew Otis
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Impressive research, fascinating stories, harrowing descriptions of life for indentured women in Guiana.
Rishona Campbell
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book caught my eye because I recently started doing genealogical research on my own family; and my paternal grandmother was the granddaughter of indentured (East) Indians. Growing up, I was familiar with the general story -- that my family came to Jamaica to work on the sugar cane plantations after the slavery was abolished. After several years of work, they were then given land for their efforts. Today, my family still lives on this land.

However I was never privy to the details of the larg
Agnes Goyvaerts
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing work, deeply researched and interestingly told. Very much detail about the lives of an indentured people. I found the work especially interesting from a women's point of view, giving an insight into the lives of the female and how they experienced indenture, the extend of violence against women was very much highlighted with it's supposed underlying causes; i.e. the deprivations and dislocation of indenture, the shortage of women and the psychological effects of both, were examin ...more
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. She integrates personal narrative and family history with broad, compelling questions about gender, sexuality, race, and nationality. I haven't read much about indentured labor in the British Empire but immediately want to after this book. I also likes the way she asked questions, placing the reader in the historians head. She contextualizes historical and contemporary sexual and GBV in the context of indenture and colonialism, a worthwhile antidote to the racist discourse which ...more
Sabina Himani
The amount of painstaking effort, patience and perseverance that must have gone into writing this book are mind boggling. Every detail is vivid, making it so easy to visualize entire scenarios. The stories are gripping, one goes through a myriad of emotions at the plight of the subjects - admiration, sadness, outrage and frustration just a few among many more. Kudos to the writer for having done an outstanding job at bringing to life the heart wrenching story of the coolies. So many things make ...more
Chet Pagoda
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well researched and written. The author has a very measured voice as if every sentence was weighed carefully. She seems to have perfectly balanced drawing conclusions and leaving room for speculation while making a convincing argument on the affects of indenture on self identity, culture and society both past and present. I would like to add that her measured voice, as I put it above, took nothing away from her story telling ability or the books hold on me. Very very awesome. Two thumb ...more
Felecia Stuart
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: political, poc
A well-researched, well-written book on the Coolie Woman's journey from India to Guyana. As a Guyanese-American it was an enlightening experience for me to learn about my ancestors and the plight to make a better life for themselves and the future generations of their families. A good read for anyone curious about the history of the West Indies and how Indians found themselves in South America and the Caribbean.
It started out so beautifully, and while the stories told in the book are tragic and moving stories, they echo each other and the entire work began to feel ever so slightly like an academic compilation of journal stories.

Still a very interesting read - even if it lacked the fabulous language promised in the first few pages.
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent piece of reading especially of a period of Caribbean history which seems to have taken on a HIStory part and unspoken her-story remains silent. As while the author is focuses her research on Guyana stemming from her great-great-grandmother indenture from India to Guyana, it can be seen in other British Caribbean territories that received East Indian indenture immigrants.
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reviewed by the Guardian (Nov 2103)
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So well researched and relayed. Took me so long to read because these are very difficult stories of violence and loss. Really like how the author's personal history is incorporated into the book.
Sarah Philips
rated it it was amazing
Jan 21, 2018
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Gaiutra Bahadur is an American writer. She is the author of Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, a personal history of indenture shortlisted in 2014 for the Orwell Prize, the British literary prize for artful political writing. Her debut fiction, the short story “The Stained Veil,” appears in the anthology Go Home! (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2018).

Gaiutra was born in Guyana and emi
“Some people does really tek yuh shadow.” 0 likes
“Everywhere around us, they spoke in a dialect so private, so intimate to my ears, that every time they opened their mouths, there was a tingling fusion of inside and out, an electric union of outside and in, a sparks-flying soldering together of they soul” 0 likes
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