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When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife

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Seduced by politics, poetry and an enduring dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor. Moving with him to a rain-washed coastal town, she swiftly learns that what for her is a bond of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealised version of an obedient wife, bullying her and devouring her ambition of being a writer in the process, she attempts to push back - a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape.

At once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the invincible power of art, When I Hit You is a smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India.

249 pages, Hardcover

First published May 4, 2017

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Meena Kandasamy

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 844 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
703 reviews3,275 followers
April 19, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

When I Hit You’s unnamed narrator gives a staggering account of psychological manipulation and marital abuse. The book’s patchwork structure is frenetic yet elegiac. The subject matter is distressing but approachable. Above all, Kandasamy's sharp voice and her arresting linguistic style are bread and wine for the soul. This ranks among the fiercest competitors on this year’s longlist; it will come as no surprise if When I Hit You is awarded the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,509 reviews2,442 followers
July 24, 2020
"That is the aim of the rapes, all this rough sex. Not just a disciplining, but a disabling. He believes that after him, I will have nothing in me to love, to make love, to give pleasure. This is a man breaking his own wife. This is a man burning down his own house."

This is not for the faint of heart, the book is in fact full of paragraphs like the one cited above. Kandasamy tells the story of a highly educated Indian woman from a well-to-do family who marries a man who keeps the outward appearance of a respected college professor and social rights activist, while at home, he increasingly isolates and abuses his wife. As the violence spirals out of control, the beatings become more and more vicious, the insults turn into threats, and the wife gets raped regularly. Kandasamy paints a gruesome picture that vividly explains why the wife stays with her husband, what strategies he employs to keep her under his control, the emotions she experiences, and the role of her own family and Indian society at large. By that, the book successfully exposes the power dynamics that allow violence against women to happen, and although this is a book specifically about India, many aspects also apply to other societies.

I think it is worthwhile to compare this book to Gwen Riley's First Love (my review), as both works talk about different forms of violence against women within a marriage. Riley's book mainly deals with different shades of emotional abuse (which is a topic that should get far more attention), and the language she employs is somewhat preying, tense, and sometimes ambiguous, which of course perfectly fits her topic. Kandasamy, on the other hand, talks about rape, physical violence, open threats and insults, and her language is raw, emotional and impactful - two very different books that feel equally important. (It is particularly remarkable how Kandasamy manages to make some jokes about her protagonist's dire situation - jokes that managed to make me laugh and feel sad and angry at the same time.)

Another important aspect of Kandasamy's book is that she is very political and often refers to the common phenomenon that a system of thought that maintains to fight for equality is used to oppress other people, in this case women. The husband in this story claims to be a devoted communist and derides his wife as "bourgeois" and a "bad comrade" whenever she behaves in a way that he does not agree with. While pretending to fight for the rights of oppressed workers, he oppresses, beats and rapes his wife; while condemning the dehumanizing consequences of the capitalist system, he tries to take away his wife's individuality; while declaring his aim to free the ailing poor, he incarcerates his wife. His "communism" is a charade, a tool to put him in the right, a cover-up for his twisted personality, and it remains unclear whether he himself buys into his obscure arguments:

"I must learn that a Communist woman is treated equally and respectfully by comrades in public but can be slapped and called a whore behind closed doors. This is dialectics."
"In this marriage in which I'm beaten, he is the poet. And one of his opening lines of verse reads: When I hit you, Comrade Lenin weeps."

Of course, this use of ideology or perversion of a system of thought happens quite frequently and in different contexts, but to read Kandasamy's description of the incarnations of this phenomenon in India is fascinating. For instance, I had no idea about the reasons why "a woman with short, loose hair in the bazaar also became synonymous with the white man's prostitute", the rite of burning widows, and the culture around the "bachelor politician".

And then there's the question whether this book is at all fictitious. Unfortunately, it is not. In the "Times of India", Kandasamy made it very clear that this did indeed happen to her (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/h...), although for reasons that become apparent when reading her book, "Kandasamy is reluctant to expand publicly on her own case of domestic abuse, except to say she divorced her husband and moved on" (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...). The author has since become a powerful activist for feminist issues and the anti-caste movement.

All in all, this is an excellent book that is currently on my #3 spot for the Women's Prize for Fiction (#1 Home Fire, #2 H(A)PPY), and I also wouldn't be surprised if it made the Booker longlist this year.

If you'd like to hear more about the book, you can listen to our podcast episode (in German; translated edition: Schläge: Ein Porträt der Autorin als junge Frau).
126 reviews97 followers
July 31, 2019
It is a book that has roused many responses in me, not always good. In the beginning, just after reading a few pages, I made up my mind about the writer. She proved me right, to an extent, in the first half of the book. It is terrible when one's negative thoughts about the writer come true. This book for me is more like an essay than a novel. In the beginning, it reads like as if the author has read too much theory. There is nothing wrong with reading theories, but one hardly writes a good novel by using too much of it unless one is Zadie Smith.

In the book, the author writes about her painful, abusive marriage as she experienced it. However, it seems that she sees male oppression and dominance everywhere, even before her husband appears on the scene. Being a sharp girl, all this must have poisoned her mind. It is important to know things, to be aware of them, but one should not let the negative impinge one's consciousness so completely, no matter how bad the real life might be.

The book reads too raw, she is too fierce. Almost no men, no women are portrayed sympathetically; her own parents are shown in negatively except toward the end where she thanks them for supporting her, but before that she only shows them as stereotypical Indian parents with the kind of disdain that the privileged have toward the marginalized, that the superior West toward the rest.

The book also gives the impression that all Indians are stuck in bad marriages as if marriage is some sort of 'burkha' that a ruthless man put on a woman. It produces a certain kind of narrative that subsumes all 'difference'– other potentialities, other lived realities. Personally, I have seen countless women in India, poor, uneducated, intelligent, and independent in their own ways; and a majority of people living ordinary, happy married lives, but this does not mean that I deny the viciousness of patriarchy that damages both men and women and privileges men monumentally in India.

In fact, the space that Meena inhabits, the words she deploys, the way she sees life, the way she is, are the very markers that put her on equal terms with her husband. She is not a subaltern woman, she is the woman who fights back. She has every resource, advantage that makes man and a man in India. She has an access to that space like her husband.

It is quite ironic, rather sad, to see how her husband demeans and shames her body. He accuses her of using her 'cunt' to get writing assignments. Elsewhere in the book, Meena herself ( or the wife in the book), in her haste to be critical of men, speaks in similar terms to describe women who work with men without conflicts. Here, we see how in one situation, she is at the receiving end of the narrative that gnaws her very person; but in another context, she herself deploys (has that access) the same narrative on others (read women), seemingly less privileged and socially inferior to her.

In terms of language, in the first half of the book, I found some trite expression, for instance, “we ate in silence.” On many occasions, while reading her, I even knew the words that might appear next. Each time that happened, I cringed. However, I must add that the second half of the book is brilliant, her language feels real, heartfelt and forceful. Toward the end of the book, she writes about men and herself in an excellent prose; the poet in her comes out with full force. Reading these last pages, I understood her better, I made my peace with those parts of the book that I found contentious. In other words, whereas the first half of the book has conflicting elements, too many accusations, too much anger, therefore, I was listening less, I was arguing more with her. It shames, demonizes, the 'oppressor'– whatever, whoever that is. However, in the second half, the narrative voice seems real as it comes from the depth of experience, not clouded by righteousness. The reader feels its healing impact.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
July 29, 2018
I bought this book from the UK after reading extraordinary reviews- shattering- about a young woman who marries a dashing University Professor who behind closed doors is a bullying, abusive, monster. I was warned about the physical and sexual violence- but readers expressed the importance of reading this courageous, brave poetic book of the year: shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize, Longlisted for the Dylan Thomas prize - Women’s Prize Fiction for 2018.
I wanted to support the book - even offer a small donation if I thought I’d make a difference- I too wanted to endorse and support this woman speaking out.

Well...it started out strong engaging - fascinating - pathetic- but also a little funny: five years had passed since Meena had run away from her marriage of playing the good Indian wife. She ran away from an unbearable man who routinely beat her.
Meena tells how her ‘mother’ had not stopped talking about it - talked about her ‘feet’ ....( the heels were cracked from running away)...and the lice in her hair ...... but it got on Meena’s nerves when her mother stole the story of ‘her’ life.
She says: “Much as I love my mother, authorship is a trait that I have come to take ‘very’ seriously”.....
“she’s stealing from an author’s life- how often is that sort of atrocity even ‘allowed’ to happen?”

I liked how ruthless and candid Meena was right off the bat. ‘She’ was going to tell us ‘her’ story. I sat back, ready to listen....
but soon I felt disconnected.
The writing itself is very dry and boring to read.
I feel like the wicked witch of the west being critical of this book - but honestly- I personally wouldn’t recommend it.. unless it’s one of those books people buy for a noble cause - or a reader has a specific hunger to real ‘all’ books about domestic abuse- I suppose they could add this one to their library- but for me - I could have easily passed on this book.
Sorry - to be such a cold fish.
As raw as this story is in actual events...it’s written with almost no emotional intimacy connection.
It’s flat -dull reading - repetitive- a’telling’ story ... more than ‘experiential’.
This type of writing I can find in a magazine article.

I respect the issue of importance,though.
The last couple of pages were reassuring!!!
Meena is free and she still believes in love.

Profile Image for Resh (The Book Satchel).
436 reviews494 followers
December 27, 2019
Brilliant! Read it already.

I had a lot of doubts in my mind when I picked the book. Is it stereotypical? Is it bashing all marriages in India in general? Is it a long personal rant? Yes, I had read Meena's poems before this but I had these looming questions about the novel.

And....It is none of the above. This novel is so raw and powerful; it will make you cringe. It will make you feel terrified. I loved the honesty in the voice. I loved it when Meena Kandasamy wrote that she wrote about strong women characters but she was struggling in her own life. It is a reminder that even the strongest of us sometimes feel trapped and helpless.

This is one amazing read, well written, short and packed with all the punch. I have nothing but praise for the book.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
August 29, 2018
As a man, I don't feel capable of writing a conventional review of this compelling, intensely personal, visceral, brutal, raw and above all human story of how a talented young poet and writer found herself trapped in an abusive marriage, and how she eventually escaped from it. All I can do is to spread the word and urge others to read it.

We are discussing this book in the 21st Century Literature group this month here:
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,292 reviews2,288 followers
February 27, 2021

2 stars solely for the vivid writing style and making me read the book with rapt attention and making me feel and see everything as real in my head.

However, for the rest of the book, I have issues, issues and issues.
I can understand why everyone loves this book. It shows the horrifying experience of a woman who was being abused in the worst ways possible both privately and publicly. Everything was just shut off from her by her husband. Yes, I appreciate how the main protagonist struggled to survive in such situations and actually get to get away from the situation in the end.

So well here are the things I have issues with this book.

First of all, she is an educated woman, a working woman who has a clear mind and understanding about what was happening and what she could have done. But no, she is just staying there, living as if everything was alright with all kind of inhuman treatment and was waiting for some kind of permission from her parents who were living far away. Okay, given that she is living in a society where the reputation of herself and her paternal family is subjected to ridicule if she happens to get separated from her husband within the first year of marriage or let's just say getting separated. But really? She was under constant threats that her husband might kill her any moment and she behaved like she was locked up 24x7. But no she had lots of chances. (She is allowed to go outside by herself to buy groceries and other household stuffs. As well as she got lots of hints from the local people regarding the hideous past of her husband yet she was just like if only she had a chance to escape!)
Even when she came to know that her husband didn't reveal about his first marriage, she didn't do anything about it. Cannot that be a reason to tell her parents to let them understand if not about the constant abuse?

And her parents?
Oh, I would so love to bash these so called characters as parents. Because it's totally like they suddenly changed and welcomed her back after everything worse has happened to her with all of her self-respect and dignity lost. I mean, what kind of parents say that they care about their daughters but keep on telling them to stay with a potential murderer even after knowing everything about such life-threatening abuse almost on a daily basis? And the reason? Her mother told her that she faced the same kind of abuses from her father during the first few years of marriage until she gave birth to a child and she has learnt to live with it and so(!) the daughter must learn to live with whatever abuse she was dealing with. Saywha?!

And the main protagonist?
She didn't hit back at all!
The irony!
The title does nothing here. It's just a namesake.

All she ever did was calling up her parents once or twice to seek permission to come back during which her father was almost always reluctant to talk to her and didn't say or do anything except making her feel that it's all her fault and her mother was always like 'we as women have to live with it no matter what'.

She was publicly humiliated as well and physically abused by her husband for not giving him a child. She knew he had a weapon which he might use to kill her someday soon. Even then she was like 'I will try to stay with him and keep thinking and thinking' and no, not about how to escape but just thinking and thinking endlessly how miserably she wants to call her parents. Seriously?

And she never fought back. There's not one moment or even one moment of fighting back or seeking help or anything plausible regarding the situation she was in even though she knew her life was in constant danger.

Yes, she didn't do anything about it.

And the worst part of the book?

Out of nowhere, she got permission from her parents one day over the phone to let her come back and live with them. That's it. That's the 'When I Hit You' part. She just went back to her parents like that. The husband as a character was totally neglected in the end. Nothing was said to him. Nothing was done to him. Nothing was done against him. He was just left to do what he wanted. That's it! Like seriously?!

I understand how it is like to be a woman in a restricted society. I understand how such victims get discriminated and all. But this main protagonist was just portrayed as someone who wasn't capable of thinking and as someone lacking the basic response of fight or flight. And the worst was that she was not even feeling sorry for herself. It was like she was represented as an animal which was waiting to be abused.

Frustrating read.
Profile Image for Srividya Vijapure.
216 reviews302 followers
September 28, 2017
Many years ago, when I was studying law, I worked with a non profit organization that dealt with women’s issues along with many others. I was in my final year of law when I met her. She was a woman from a well to do family, husband had a thriving business and all was good and dandy when seen from outside but the inside was a different story altogether. She came to me one evening as I was alone in the office. My senior had gone out and I was alone. She wanted to talk to someone. I informed her that I wasn’t a lawyer and that all I could do was listen to her case and maybe direct her to the right person or persons. Coming from a well to do family, I couldn’t actually take the case up as we worked for the downtrodden and those who couldn’t afford legal services. I made this very clear in the beginning. It sounded harsh when said aloud but I couldn’t help but give this spiel. She nodded her head and agreed with whatever I said, she just wanted to talk and wanted someone to listen and perhaps be aware of the reality.

I won’t go into the details of the story as it is privileged conversation, despite my not being a full fledged lawyer. Nevertheless, her woes were similar to the many women who came from backgrounds that were economically far lower than hers. It had all the ingredients that are contained in this book and maybe went further than the book itself in terms of its horror. All I could do was sit and listen as she poured out her woes, giving her water when she ran out of tears, just holding her hand as she crossed the parts that were to horrible to talk about, much less to a stranger. She was there with me for about an hour or more and in that period I had developed a strange bond with her while trying to keep the anger away from my face. In my mind, I tortured the guy in many ways; in reality, I kept quiet and just listened. Never have I felt so impotent as I did that day with that woman. When asked about her family and support system, she told me that she had none. In fact, her parents and friends and family had advised her to stick with it as she was rolling in money; as if money could solve all problems. Towards the end of our talk, I felt bad that I couldn’t help her in any concrete manner than to direct her to organisations that dealt solely with domestic violence and who were better equipped to make sure that she stayed safe. She looked at me and said, “I will look into this but thanks for listening to me and thanks for believing me”. I found the latter part odd and it has been on my mind ever since she left our office. I don’t know where she is now and I only hope that she has found a better life but the words that I didn’t understand, made sense last night as I finished this book.

Women go through hell when they live in an abusive relationship but the worst part is not having a single soul to talk to about this and not having a single soul believing in them, especially if they are educated and are economically doing good. When such a woman cries abuse, it is easy for all around her and for society to think that she is trying to gain attention and is just being a drama queen. Why? Why is it so difficult for people to accept that even educated and rich women can be abused? Does abuse look at economic and social status before it unleashes itself? Are rich men less abusive than the poor? Why?

Meena Kandasamy in her second book deals with the subject of abuse in a family that is educated and reasonably well to do. Drawing from her own experiences, she tells a tale of a woman in love who wants only love but gets everything but love in the relationship that was to become a nightmare. Telling the tale in third person singular, she tries to get the narrator to distance herself from the events that are happening in the life of the woman and her small family. Try as she might, she doesn’t succeed completely in distancing herself or the woman and the result is a beautifully written book that talks about domestic violence and more importantly marital rape, the two keywords that have most people shuddering or turning away, for the sheer fact that it is taboo to talk about it, much less think about it, and when it happens, it happens to persons we have no knowledge about and have no interest knowing about other than the bare facts that can be used as a tool for gossip, sometimes malicious, sometimes well meant, but gossip and gossip alone.

When I hit you truly hit me as I was reading to finish it. Despite the horrifying subject, the author managed to keep me reined in completely not letting go as I absorbed her words, so tragically distanced and yet so poignant that it brought back many memories of stories that I had heard of women going through something similar and not knowing where to go or who to turn to. I almost shelved the book after reading the first chapter, which made me think that this is nothing but a cheap attempt to sensationalise a serious topic. However, am glad that I didn’t, because I was wrong. Oh boy, how wrong was I to doubt the author and her story. Not only does she give the topic all the seriousness that it deserves but she does so in a language that is truly sublime and a treat to read despite the horrors that are portrayed. She adds words in Tamil in the prose while giving their meanings in English and that adds to the strength of the narrative, making it even more impactful for a reader who is a Tamilian and can totally understand the subtext.

When I hit you could be the story of anybody really, it could be you or me, such is its universal nature and this is what shocks me the most. Reading this book made me realise the gem that I have in a husband and how lucky I am to have someone who truly cares and loves with all his being. It reminded me of all my friends who have gone through something similar, some long ago and some quite near in the past. I salute all those who actually managed to escape, knowing just how difficult it is to escape something that is not only physically harming but also traumatic psychologically as well as emotionally. While I could be the listener and a helping shoulder in some cases, I know of a few where I didn’t know until the very end. The prejudices that some of them faced because of society were worse than the actual abuse and yet they stood tall and handled it beautifully, with grace and dignity. I truly salute them all and want to tell them that you are the most beautiful women that I have known and I am glad to know you and have you in my life.

While discussing this book, a topic of educating came up and it was said that educating women to reach out and to leave this cycle of abuse is a must. I did not concur, for I believe that more than educating the women, we should start educating the man. I am no feminist and hate labels of any sort but I remember an advertisement that kept doing rounds on TV as well as social media here in India, where the theme was ‘Ladke rote nahi hai’ or ‘Boys don’t cry’ and then they go on to show that the same boy who has been repeatedly told not to cry and that he is a man, grows up and beats his woman and makes her cry. Repressing emotions, especially negative emotions, in a boy or man, is one of the solid pillars of our patriarchal society. That you have to be strong, that you have to remain stoic and that you cannot break down and come apart are things that boys are always told and are expected to practice. I don’t know if repressing of emotions is the sole cause of domestic violence and I don’t believe that it can be but it does play a role. Men are catered to and put on a high pedestal and more so after marriage where in India the term ‘Pati Parmeshwar’ or ‘Husband is God’ is used and I guess it is that usage, that status given to man, which makes him feel that he can do anything and get away with it. I have heard many mothers tell their daughters to suck it up and stay put just because the husband can never be wrong, much like what the narrator tells about the mother of the woman in this story. I think it is important to cut down all these notions and god like status given to man, which might then, hopefully, result in reducing the occurrence of domestic violence by a bit. I won’t say that it will disappear but maybe educating the men and educating their parents to create an image that is more human than god-like, might just help a bit. I would just like to add a disclaimer that while I am talking about men in general, I don’t mean to accuse every man of this or even accuse all parents of boys to be party to this folly.

A very interesting point that the author touches upon in this story is how a woman is alienated from society by her abusive husband. While we, who are in happy relationships, can easily scorn it, I believe it is only someone who is in an abusive relationship who can understand the perils of being alienated and more importantly the perils of not allowing her man to alienate her from society. The woman in this story is a writer and therefore has a strong social media presence but all this is taken away with a single decision made by her husband. We can argue till kingdom come that the lady was educated and hence she should have been able to stand up but again it is difficult to do so, especially in a society which believes that the woman should accept every decision taken by her husband as being for her good. Ah those wonderful words, for her good, what proportions it takes it often not understood by even the men who use it, so how can a woman understand or even contemplate? Alienated and alone the woman stays in the relationship in the hope that all will be well. But is it? What does society do or how does it react when the relationship worsens? As members of the society, I think the onus is upon us to educate ourselves on the existence of domestic violence, to accept that marital rape is rape and cannot be condoned merely because the parties are married and therefore there is a blanket consent to anything and everything. A ‘No’ is a ‘No’ even in marriage, or should I say, especially in marriage.

What started as a sensational tale became one of poignancy, respect and finally a lesson. I took away a lot from this one and believe that everyone should read it, if only to accept that these issues cannot and should not be swept under the carpet. What this woman went through in four months, many have gone through for years and many are still going through. I think this book and its content is an eye opener for society to understand and accept and maybe try to help.

Thank you Syl and Kru for telling me about this book and for having such intriguing discussions which made me want to read it. Else, this would have been one that I would have definitely missed. And thank you Ms. Kandasamy for writing such an exceptionally hard hitting yet poignantly beautiful book on such a difficult subject.

Profile Image for Paul.
1,178 reviews1,935 followers
March 13, 2020
Reviewing a novel like this is not easy: Kandasamy organises the raw material of domestic abuse and coercive control and uses her own experience to express it in novel form. Her new husband was outwardly radical, left wing, sensitive and caring. The reality was very different:
“No one knows the peculiar realities of my situation.
How do you land a job when:
• you end up somewhere in the middle of the teaching semester?
• you have no contacts in a strange city?
• your husband has forced you off social media?
• you have no phone of your own?
• your husband monitors and replies to all messages addressed to you?
• you do not speak the local language?
• you have the wifely responsibility of producing children first?
That’s a long list already. These are not the regrets of an unemployed person. These are the complaints of an imprisoned wife.”
That’s just the coercive control part. The brutal violence and nightly rape were in addition to that. The buildup is slow and the factual narrative is interspersed with other thoughts, analysis, day dreams and possibilities. Class, society and politics are all interwoven and there is a good deal of analysis of how a man who is left-wing can justify his brutality using his beliefs to justify his violence. This, though, is a middle class tale: male violence is not just linked to one class, one culture or one country. The violence escalates towards the end:
“I have watched him play all the roles. The doting husband in the presence of his colleagues, the harassed victim of a suspicious wife to his male friends, the unjustly emasculated man to my female friends, the pleading son-in-law to my parents. The role of would-be-murderer, however, is new.”
The writing overall is imaginative and sometimes playful with an element of humour. The humour is necessary to alleviate some of the sheer awfulness of the situation. But Kandasamy is very eloquent at making her point:
“Violence is not something that advertises itself…As long as a woman cannot speak, as long as those to whom she speaks do not listen, the violence is unending.”
The book is well put together by someone who writes well, she considers the sociology of violence, she links abstractions to a real story:
“Marriage has ruined my romanticism, by teaching me that this thing of beauty can be made crude. Bitch. Whore. Slut. And yet, for every insult that has been flung in my face, language retains its charm.
English makes me a lover, a beloved, a poet. Tamil makes me a word huntress, it makes me a love goddess.”
The gradual build up makes it more powerful and it rings true. Kandasamy was asked, when she was talking about the book, why the unnamed narrator would not just have left, but this is to misunderstand the nature of coercive control. The viciousness of it comes across as does the way male perpetrators manage to persuade themselves that want they are doing is not only justified but necessary and right. The unnamed narrator does escape, she does run:
“In the eyes of the world, a woman who runs away from death is more dignified than a woman who runs away from her man. She does not face society’s stone-throwing when she comes away free. In the quest to control the narrative, I shall have to endanger my own life.”
“In place of a firing squad, I stare down the barrels of endless interrogation. (…) Sometimes the shame is not the beatings, not the rape. The shame is being asked to stand to judgement.”
Masculinity and patriarchy are repositories of violence: every man should read this.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,774 reviews1,253 followers
June 1, 2018
I am the woman who has tried to shield herself from the pain of the first person singular …. I am the woman who stands in place of the woman who loathes to enter this story in any of its narrations … because that woman has struggled so hard and long to wriggle out of it – and now when asked to speak, she would much rather send a substitute. Sharing stories might be catharsis, but to her it is the second, more sophisticated punishment. I am the woman deputed on her behalf.

Now shortlisted for the 2018 Women's Prize.

A fierce and yet artistic account of domestic violence and marital rape – based very closely on the author’s own terrible experiences, although as the passage above makes clear one which is still a fictional account.

The book simultaneously acts as a protest cry against the huge latent issue of marital abuse but also functions as a finely crafted into piece of literature – or to quote further from the passage above (the repetition within this passage of “I am the woman …” very representative of the various stylistic devices that the author applies in the book) I am the woman who tummy rubs every received taunt so that it can be cajoled into sentences

Or as the author explains in this powerful piece


When I talk to people about writing my story, the first response is often: have you found the writing cathartic? Not at all. Catharsis is about purging emotions. That was never my aim. Instead, I wanted to take all that hurt and pain and shame and suffering, and distil it and transform it into something beautiful. The process of writing was a kind of alchemy-to take the horror of the violence, to dwell in it and shape that into an intense, moving sentence. I did that until every shard of my sadness caught the right amount of light, and every word shone on the page. I made an abusive marriage into an art object, and that is how I left it in the end

I found this review by Preti Taneja(author of Preti Taneja We That Are Young– a book which uses King Lear to examine the role of women in Indian Society and vice versa) very helpful for understanding the cultural context of the book:


Politics also plays a key role – the abusive husband is a university lecturer on Marxism and ex-revolutionary guerilla and obscenely uses both his politics and his past to justify and obscure his abuse (I could not help reflecting on the accusations of misogyny and on-line abuse around Momentum activists).

Overall this is a difficult, powerful and important novel.
Profile Image for Alexis Hall.
Author 50 books10.8k followers
December 18, 2021
Welp. This was incredibly difficult reading – although I guess that’s obvious from the title. I mean, you kinda know what you’re getting a book called ‘When I Hit You'.

Content warnings for, like, all the domestic violence and sexual abuse.

So this book is fairly straight forward in terms of, err, events. In the aftermath of heartbreak, the narrator (who remains nameless), a highly educated Tamil woman from a respectable family, a poet and a writer in her own right, marries a man (who also remains unnamed in the text) who presents every appearance of righteousness to the world (he’s a college professor, a Marxist, an activist) and is, in fact, a paranoid sadist who sets about systematically isolating and dehumanising his wife. When she resists, he keeps her under control with addition of physical and sexual violence.

She does manage to leave him in the end, but only having first had to establish a situation her family would deem abusive “enough” that they’d be willing to support her, and only to re-enter a world that judges, blames and condemns for either “getting into” an abusive marriage in the first place, leaving the abusive marriage, or daring to talk about having been in her abusive marriage.

This has that air of … um … truthiness that comes from a context of experience but it also feels important to recognise the fictionality—the artfulness—of the text. I think it’s the combination of both that enable it to have such a powerful impact on the reader. The narrator’s acts of resistance are all grounded in … for lack of a better word … art: whether it’s writing letters to imaginary lovers in her head or framing what is happening to her as if she is a character in a film. By the end of the narrator’s prose has unfurled into something almost elegiac, unabashedly and defiantly poetic, profoundly moving to witness as she not only reclaims but celebrates the voice her husband tried to take from her.

For such a slim novel, there is so much one could potentially discuss here: the brand of toxic masculinity that manifests in the narrator’s husband, the way politics is used as a tool of domestic control, the way language serves to both oppress and liberate, the resilience of art, the complexities of abuse, the intersections of gender and race. But I am still feeling my way through the book.
Honestly, it was perilously close to unbearable to read: tense, claustrophobic, horrifying. But there something really bracing about the bitterness in it, the sharpness of the humour (and, yes, it actually funny, in an appalling kind of way). Something that is ultimately, in its way hopeful.

I am the woman who will be cursed by society for being passed from man to man to man, hand to hand to hand. I am the woman at whom society cannot spit or throw stones because this me is a she who is made up only of words on a page, and the lines she speaks are those that everyone hears in their own voice.

Do read this. If you can bear to. But, as always, take care of yourself.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,425 reviews2,494 followers
July 27, 2021
I am the woman who stands in place of the woman who loathes to enter this story in any of its narrations - police or procedural, personal or fictional - because that woman has struggled so hard and so long to wriggle out of it - and now, when asked to speak, she would much rather send a substitute. Sharing stories might be catharsis, but to her it is the second, more sophisticated punishment. I am the woman deputed on her behalf.

Such a bold book which self-consciously breaks taboos about speaking out on sexual violence, marital rape, and the social/political/cultural and, even, familial complicities which allow these acts to be perpetuated, and not even, at times, hidden.

But this is far more than an explosive exploration of how a highly-educated and intelligent woman can become party to an abusive marriage. Kandasamy weaves in the politicised theorising of Cixous, Irigaray et al. and is not blind to the extent to which progressive politics and leftist philosophies may themselves support or be made to legitimise deeply engrained misogynistic structures.

Add to that acute attention to issues of women's ability to speak and to be silenced, the politicisation of shame, and the role of women's writing in breaking down mutedness.

But Kandasamy isn't a polemicist and this works beautifully as a piece of fiction with a voice which can be jaunty, almost comic in places, and certainly refuses to be shut up or cowed down.

And that final chapter had me weeping: not for the pain we feel throughout this book but for the ultimate triumph of survival. Writing this - and reading it - feels like an act of solidarity.
Profile Image for Viv JM.
692 reviews153 followers
March 25, 2018
When I Hit You tells the tale of a young wife's treatment at the hands of an abusive husband. First, he cuts her off and seeks to control her (making her delete her Facebook account, hand over her phone, tell him her email password) and he moves on to physically beating and raping her. This is certainly, and rightly, an upsetting and harrowing book, but in no way gratuitous. The writer takes control of her story and her life and eventually leaves the husband, after four months of marriage.

Kandasamy's book deals with themes of shame and humiliation while conveying empathy for both herself and other victims of domestic violence. Part of her shame comes from the fact that she identifies as feminist and thus feels that she should not be allowing this to happen to her, but she manages to take to task those who don't understand why she didn't leave sooner:

It does not cross their mind that a woman who is being beaten is intimidated into feeling, believing, knowing that to ask for help from others will only put her at greater risk. In their questions and their responses I come to know that even those of them who have mastered the theory have not lived through the experience: they lack the insight that a woman being abused can mostly trust only one person for help. Herself.

At the end of this book is a "List of People You Should Give This Book To" by Deepa, originally published as a review in the Wire, which you can read here: https://thewire.in/books/list-people-read-i-hit. I urge you to read the list and then to read this book. It's not an easy read but it's full of wit and humour and empathy too.

I read this thanks to its inclusion on the longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction. I would be delighted to see it make the shortlist and, even better, to win.

April 27, 2018
"I am the woman who asked for tenderness and got raped in return. I am the woman who has done her sentence."

This is one hell of a book. It has had such a profound effect on me, I'm not even sure I'm happy that I finished it so quick. "When I hit you" is a very personal account of a young woman in India, and the abusive marriage she endured. The young woman is a writer, and she fell in love and married a professor. Soon after the marriage things begin to change. He starts mentally abusing her, by taking away her freedom, blackmailing her, putting her down every chance he gets. When the young writer stands up to her Husband and defies him, he begins beating her regularly, and even goes as far as raping his own wife.
Domestic abuse, is something that is too often unnoticed or unseen. Unfortunately, quite often, this is due to the female being too terrified to leave, because they are threatened that there will be "consequences" therefore, they suffer in silence. Physiological abuse, on some levels, is just as demeaning and life debilitating as physical abuse. Yes, there are bruises, but words stick, they are not so fast to fade.
I loved the way the book is written. It is like an essay style, but for me, it really worked. The author writes in a poetic manner, and her words were smooth, but at the same time, powerful. This book is so incredibly important, and if you need a reminder of the great power that words and literature can have on an individual, read this book.
Profile Image for Trudie.
525 reviews559 followers
May 24, 2018
This was a tough read of that there is no doubt.

The title is fierce and the writing while beautifully poetic and darkly humorous is also uncompromising and raw. It leaves you with a portrait of the lives of women in India which is frankly horrific. Of course at some level this should not be news, as we have all seen (or maybe looked away from) those headlines about burning and gang rape and other unpleasantness that is often convenient to consign to problems that don't belong to us.

Reading this book was fairly transformative for me. I admit to thinking, how does a proud feminist, a talented, educated, intelligent woman, one who dates freely and who is not forced into an arranged marriage end up with this guy ? A man so blatantly full of toxicity that I could barely stand to read about his antics. I feel bad for asking these questions and Kandasamy calls me out on them specifically, later in the novel. I am found guilty of making an awful lot of assumptions about domestic abuse and who it can happen to. I also fall into the trap of wanting a more humanising portrait of this husband - how could he be so evil ? he must have had some redeeming qualities for her to marry him? Again, that possibly says more about my luck and naïveté than anything else.

These are awkward truths to ponder and Kandasamy forces you boldly to address them. It's a shocking and important book for that reason alone. It is a bonus that this story is told so beautifully, there is a real affinity and love of language here. As poetic and charming as this can be the author knows exactly when to slap you out of a reverie with some atrocious cruelty like a bride is burnt every 90 minutes in India.

This book exists in what I find a sometimes awkward nexus of memoir / fiction / political statement, and often in these situations I can't entirely let go of a desire to sort between fact and fiction. Additionally, there is likely more to be taken from this novel if you understand the Indian political/cultural landscape, I am sure many things went entirely over my head.

When I Hit You seems to me the kind of work the Woman's Prize absolutely excels at promoting and without it's deserved shortlisting I probably would not have stumbled across it.
Profile Image for Anna.
758 reviews510 followers
April 26, 2020
“My written body opens up only to the extent I decide to demarcate. It does not require the permission of my parents, it does not require the approval of society. My words might reveal a generous cleavage, a breaking waist, but they do not let anyone put their hands on me. Wrapping my body into words, I proof it against the prying eye, against inspection. I have sheathed it against the hands of others. My woman’s body, when it is written down, is rape resistant.”

This book… This! Book!

I had to read When I Hit You in one sitting because the thought of putting it down only to dive back in the next day was just… too much. At times, I was gasp-reading: the violence spirals out of control, what you thought was unbearable a page ago is pushed to a new, thoroughly harrowing limit. However, the unnamed narrator seems to be holding your hand, allowing you ask yourself the obvious questions and process your own emotions, while she herself experiences unimaginable physical and psychological abuse, everyday battling for mere survival.

Nevertheless, her desire to regain her identity as a writer, to create a resilient written-body, pulls her through all that pain, and the courage to still believe in love at the end will leave the reader on a hopeful note. There are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout the novel, most surprising since it’s dealing with such heavy topics. But be warned… it is not for the faint of heart and it can definitely trigger trauma in some people.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
979 reviews499 followers
September 9, 2019
This book is brutally honest and wonderfully poetic.

Just like the writer it continuously encompasses all themes whilst simultaneously contradicting itself along the way as well.

Our narrator here details her life from being a younger woman trying to establish herself as a writer to a survivor of rape and domestic abuse.

Throughout the chapters her storytelling is so vivid and honest, I couldn’t put this book down. It details such a strong woman.

The way the writers poetry and chosen quotes dotted throughout the book juxtaposed the hardship she was enduring really just reinforced the reality of her marriage for me; I was in tears during some bits in the train ride home.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews312 followers
September 6, 2018
Meena Kandasamy. This book is levels of difficult. The abusive marriage the narrator endured, not many find their way out of those situations and it's a fucking travesty that this abuse continues. It's a international disgrace that so many bodies on so many levels are complacent with the suffering, abuse and subjugation of women and girls globally. It's a fucking travesty that we describe violence against women the way that we do. That we don't even label it out in the open as what it is, violence from men against women. Fuck the "from men" being implied! We need our statements to match the situation. We need to remove ourselves from a time where even our terms take the responsibility away from men. One of the most amazing things about Meena's book is that the narrator placed the responsibility and the blame squarely on the shoulders of the violent rapist criminal in the home she was living in. She minced no words. She freed herself, she really did.

You could really feel this story leap through the space between the book and your face. Everything in this story is heavy. Everything in this story is upsetting but Meena's words are poetic. Her writing is EVERYTHING. Seriously, I couldn't put this down. As a reader, I felt the madness setting in as it set in for the narrator. You went back with her through time. You went back to dark spaces. You came through to the light. She never gave away her story and I loved that it opened up with her reclaiming the narrative from her mother and others who would like to describe their involvement as "saving" her. I can imagine that that was no small feat, especially considering the influence our parents play in our lives as daughters, which she described in detail. Meena described an incredibly strong woman, no hyperbole. The definition of resilient as fuck.

What really took me about the story is that you could understand, even when it seemed outrageous, the leaps and bounds the narrator's mind took her through to bring her some semblance of sanity and to protect her through dark times. Even in the face of this beast who is this lying, sadistic, abusive piece of shit, her mind was trying for her. It kind of reminded me of PUSH by Sapphire.

Another thing that got me about this story is the signs and how many signs were ignored for whatever reasons. Meena jumps into describing why this happens; but it still always hurts the soul that people could be so wrapped up in whatever, that they don't alert themselves that they're slowly losing control. It is a real situation that happens all the time, so you can't criticize this element; but it still hurts the soul.

It's crazy how culture and family would insist you remain in situations that cause you so much harm; but this is prevalent in various cultures across the globe from the east to the west. This book is a powerhouse of a narrative detailing what no doubt many women and girls have experienced. I think it's a blessing that it exists just to remind someone that they're not alone and that there is and can be hope for freedom in all situations.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews874 followers
May 20, 2018
When I Hit You is a brutal and uncompromising look at one woman's abusive marriage in India. I'm at a complete loss for words with this book - I just want to shove it into everyone's hands who has ever asked 'if the relationship is abusive, why doesn't she just leave?' Kandasamy answers that question with unapologetic candor, in this semi-autobiographical novel that fuses lyricism with forthrightness in a way that's utterly striking.

The narrator in When I Hit You is an aspiring writer and a self-proclaimed feminist, who falls in love with a university professor who, to all outward appearances, is intelligent and charming. Not far into their marriage he begins to show his true colors, physically and verbally abusing in an effort to bully her into submission. She eventually escapes - we know this from the first page - and the book flits back and forth between before and after, though not necessarily in a linear chronology that alternates the two. Past and present coexist for this character in a way she endeavors to reconcile, the two bleeding into each other as she tells her story.

Of all the Women's Prize shortlisted titles I've read so far (I only have one more left, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock), I think there's some seriously fierce competition, but When I Hit You still stands held and shoulders above the rest for me. It's the most unflinching look at the psychology of those who endure domestic violence that I've ever read. But it's also politically charged, and keen to examine the broader role of women in contemporary society, and it also critically examines any kind of 'feminist' discourse that places blame upon those who are unable to escape abusive relationships. Ultimately, this is thought-provoking, incisive, and beautifully written, and I think it would be a most deserving winner.
Profile Image for Inderjit Sanghera.
450 reviews91 followers
July 28, 2018
he cage occupied by then narrator in ‘When I Hit You’ isn’t solely limited to her marriage; the bruises worn by the narrator aren’t limited to her body; the dehumanisation the narrator feels due to her gender isn’t limited to just men; ‘When I Hit You’ acts as a microcosm for how deeply embedded patriarchy is in society, in which the violence enacted by men is seen as something to be explained and excuse and the violence suffered by women as something to be ridiculed, where concepts of shame over-ride concerns about a daughter, where men such as the narrator’s husband not only exist but thrive, supported by a society which sees fit to exonerate men and blame women for the wrongs done to them.

Beneath the superficial charisma and bluster of the narrator’s revolutionary husband lies a deeply insecure man, a man who on the one hand preaches equality but at the same time restricts the freedom of his wife; various excuses are offered, whether it be her actions reek of bourgeoisie materialism or that her disobedience is indecorous or that any thoughts she has independent of him are dangerous; her place is to obey, to submit to his violence. The common charges of victim blaming are levelled at the narrator; why didn’t she fight back? Surely if she was more understanding then her husband wouldn’t have to submit to violence? However these assertions don’t acknowledge the imbalances which magnify the gravity of every action taken by the narrator. Leave him and she will be compelled to return. Fight back and she will be subject to further violence. Come out publicly and she will be ridiculed or ignored. So the narrator takes the only option which is available to her; accept his violence in the hope that he will change. Yet the insecurities which drive the violence of both her husband and many other men around the world is too deeply-embedded for this to happen, instead the narrator is swept away by the torrent, cast adrift in endless waves of abuse, disoriented and helpless behind a flood of abuse.

The most tragic part of ‘When I It You’ is not just the abuse the narrator suffers, but the acceptance and indifference of society; the masks which her husband is allowed to wear and the masks which she is expected to wear, masks which conceal her anguish and pain beneath a veneer of respectability;

“Remember, lover, if you ever direct the film of my life, that the food must overshadow the domestic players. The assault on your senses will be the footage of red tomatoes breaking down in a the frying pan with green chillies and pink-white onions. The tang of tamarind infusing a chicken curry turns it a rich shade of brown…flying white ants from a monsoon evening will be craftily trapped to make an unexpected evening snack. And here, as all these elaborate banquets are staged, you will see the picture of domestic bliss that my husband is trying hard to forge. You will see how eagerly I step into the shoes of a good housewife.”
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,573 followers
May 31, 2018
I read about the first 35 pages and skimmed the rest. I loved the witty opening, as the narrator’s mother exaggerates the rundown condition in which her daughter returned to her when she left her abusive marriage. The daughter thinks, “I need to stop this, before my story becomes a footnote to a story about lice infestation. I must take some responsibility over my own life. I must write my story.”

And so the narrator tells of how she tried to bend herself to her Communist activist husband’s wishes. She echoed his beliefs, deactivated her Facebook account, and sidelined her own writing projects. “I should be a blank. With everything that reflects my personality cleared out.” Things went from bad to worse rapidly. She was completely isolated. “No one gets a clue of how precariously alone I feel.” Soon she was being beaten. She was also a victim of marital rape.

In phone calls with her parents she got divergent advice: try to make the best of it, don’t anger him, have a child and things will get better; how dare he do this to you? maybe you could leave. “I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari.”

We know from the start that she got out; the marriage only lasted a matter of months. But years later the traumatic memories are still fresh. It’s a cautionary tale as well as an inspiring story of survival. “I am the woman with wings … I have smuggled this woman out of the oppressive landscape of small-town India. I need to smuggle her out of her history, out of the do’s and don’ts for good Indian girls.”

So why didn’t I fully engage with this? Why is it that I only gave it a quick skim? It may be a question of presentation, similar to my issues with Jessie Greengrass’s Sight: it’s clear that this is highly autobiographical (it started as an essay about Kandasamy leaving her abusive husband), and if marketed as a memoir I may well have loved it. For a novel, though, it’s too issue-heavy and didactic. It’s as if it was designed to make the Women’s Prize shortlist. It also gets repetitive, as in the passages listing and describing former lovers. I enjoyed the epigraphs, especially from Szymborska’s “Life While-You-Wait,” more than the text.
Profile Image for Claire.
650 reviews279 followers
March 10, 2018
An incredible work of creativity in working through the post-trauma of domestic violence.

I am reminded of the quote I shared on my blog, in my review of Aminatta Forna's Happiness, a quote that came from Salman Rushdie in fact.
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”

Meena Kandasamy has taken charge of her story, she retells it in exactly the form(s) that she desires, and I am sure she will move on and create more great works of art, in literary form.

This is not a work to shy away from, especially not now, in these times where women are being supported when they choose to express these narratives, in order to move on from that trauma of them, because no one wants these stories to define their lives or to be who they are. Healing might come slowly, but I hope it does indeed come, because people like Meena share their own version to resilience and acts of moving forward and on, albeit never forgetting.
Profile Image for Victoria (Eve's Alexandria).
664 reviews384 followers
July 28, 2018
This was an excoriating read, and absolutely not what I expected in terms of style. Kandasamy’s prose is direct, uncompromising and confrontational, in a way that reminds me of Mohsin Hamid but which is also unlike him because it isn’t in anyway contrived. The canny structure and rhythm of the narrative grips you and pins you in place, so that you can’t look away, even when what you’re reading is devastating and horrific. (See: the fact that I read this in two sittings.) And there are a lot of horrific things here - this is a novel about a campaign of total deindividualisation, dehumanisation and violence enacted against a nameless woman by her husband, a brutal, sadistic rapist. This is obviously powerful in and of itself, but what heightens and elevated the testimony - and this does feel like testimony, it’s deeply autobiographical - is the social consciousness that Kandasamy brings to it, the way she situates domestic violence in the cultural context that enables it. Required reading I would say.
Profile Image for Vartika.
373 reviews604 followers
May 26, 2020
This is the kind of book one reads from the stomach; the kind that holds against the light of comprehension a 'shocking' violence which otherwise hides in plain sight. Emotionally reeling despite its brevity, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife is a personal and deeply political story of surviving marital abuse and of a deeply flawed society, a poetic treatise on strength, desire, ideological blindness, and trauma.

And yet, while the Joycean echo of the title may imply a coming-of-age story, itself implicit of a former naïveté, the narrator of Kandasamy's novel is a strong, independent, level-headed feminist and a statement against the assumption that abuse is the lot of the weak. Indeed, the question most asked of women who speak up about their abuse — the question asked, too, of the author when she came forth with the story of her own abusive marriage in 2012 — is the questioning of their own selves: "what kind of woman would allow it?" or, "why didn't she walk away earlier?". When I Hit You shows that it isn't hysteria or masochism but the subtle gaslighting and the isolation, lack of support, shame and fear of mortal danger created by the abuser that keeps the victims in check. While old-school feminists believe that financial independence will empower a woman to walk out of an abusive environment, Kandasamy shows us the story of those women who are shorn of their former independence and individuality with the utmost brutality — the kind that pretends benevolence to the outside world at the same time as it breaks bones in its own home.

This book also talks about a distinctively Indian strain of toxic masculinity, namely the obsessive public celibacy and bachelorhood of the leader figure — be it Gandhi, Narendra Modi, or the protagonist's first love. It talks about the patriarchal structure that allows no questioning of the husband, asks women not to talk back and condones them taking abuse until their very existence is threatened (and sometimes even then); that makes the shameful parents of a divorced daughter talk about her pitiful servitude in marriage (often attributed to her modern upbringing) but never about the violence she endures; that asks the woman to 'balance' and 'humanise' her tormentor in order to take her seriously enough.

But perhaps one of the most important and hithertho unavailable critiques that When I Hit You provides is the way it exposes some of the biggest issues with India's political left: its ideological dogma and inability to re-invent itself beyond the ideas of old leaders, its inherent conservatism, especially with regards to sexuality, motherhood, and women's rights and freedoms, and the hypocrisy of many of its practitioners. Indeed, in the case of the protagonist's ex-husband, who is a former naxalite guerilla and a university professor, his Communism is but a cover underneath which he exercises his intellectual and physical cruelty and controls her; through which he opposes her actions as too "material" or "bourgeois" while defending the similarity of his own; through which he puts up a public charade of fighting against an exploitative, oppressive, dehumanising system while exerting the same oppression, violence and fear in his own home. Kandasamy writes her critique from within the Left, attacking the hypocrisies of many of its dogmatic followers, who, like her husband, poetically justify their private tyranny and write of their oppression while being the oppressor: "When I hit you/ Comrade Lenin weeps."

And yet, as much as it is about abuse, When I Hit You is also a work that deals with ideas about the limits and confines of language
"There is a linguistic theory that the structures of languages determine the mode of thought and behavior of the cultures in which they are spoken. In an effort to understand my life at the moment, I have come up with its far-fetched corollary, a distant cousin of this theory: I think what you know in a language shows who you are in relation to that language (...) Now in Mangalore, I know the Kannada words eshtu: how mych; haalu: milk; anda: eggs; namaskaram: greetings; neerulli: onion; hendathi: wife; illi: here; ahdu: that one; illa: no; saaku: enough; (...) I can dig out ever single word that I've uttered in Kannada. In this language, I am nothing except a housewife."
...and about ideas on writing. Particularly, the protagonist sees writing here as her own means of subversion, escape and defiance — be it within the marriage, where she writes letters to imaginary lovers and deletes them before lunchtime, or after her liberation, when she writes down her story so that nobody; neither her husband, nor her mother; can distort or reduce it to something it was not. Kandasamy is writing to achieve the same ends: a fictional account of marital abuse frees her from questioning, from the burden of pain; including epigraphs from linguistically, culturally and ethnically diverse feminists consolidates her position among them. This is an assertion that both the protagonist and the author are, in fact, something "except a housewife" — and that they have a voice.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,209 reviews35 followers
May 20, 2018
4.5 rounded up

Wow. Given the title I expected this book to be intense and hard-hitting but I still don't think I was completely prepared for how raw and graphic this was.

Our unnamed narrator (a young Indian woman writer in her late 20s) has a secret affair with and ends up marrying an older political activist and moves in with him, isolating her from her family. Almost immediately after marriage the domestic abuse begins. Her husband is a paranoid, sick and manipulative person, harming himself as well as his wife, controlling every aspect of her life, making her a prisoner in her own home and taking away almost all of her freedoms. Her fear was palpable and I felt totally involved in the story - a man not only degrading a woman with violence and sexual assault but also trying to erase her identity. I think the fact that this is a first person narration helps the reader to feel immersed in the narrative. Meena Kandasamy also examines attitudes to women and domestic abuse in India which were particularly shocking (although not all that surprising) and frustrating.

This is a very hard book to read due to the upsetting nature of the subject matter, but also that domestic abuse is all too commonplace, not just in India but globally, and that there is still a lot of victim blaming goes on - something that Kandasamy addresses later in the book. However Kandasamy has a wonderful way with words and the book is highly readable; I even found myself re-reading paragraphs because of how well-written and poetic they were. This line particularly stood out to me - on the possibility of feeling pity for her husband even when the abuse has been happening for some time:
"Pity seems possible; I have a compulsive need to dole it out like small change, but the writer in me is stronger than the woman in me."

An incredibly tough read, but one I think everyone should attempt due to the excellent writing and important themes.
Profile Image for Preethi.
805 reviews122 followers
June 17, 2017
Must read. For everyone.
If you are a woman, read this book and tell yourself how bad some people in this world could be. If you are a man, read it to know the atrocities women have to put up with. If you are a parent, read this to know that you have to support your girl and teach your boy to be a sensitive human being. And if you are a citizen of the world, read it to know how harsh the world is and how quick it is to judge, in many cases.

The soft-gore, emotional abuse , physical torture and the story hit a nerve with me because it could have happened to any of us. And as 90s Indian women, brought up to be modern by our parents, educated, after having been told that the sky is really the limit for us, most of us have known deep in our hearts that a horror like this could still happen to us. We count ourselves lucky when we lead normal lives, as sad and ironic as that sounds.

Reading this book also brought the lives of so many friends whom I've known to have gone through torture like this. And I wept a little for them all, again.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews637 followers
July 7, 2018
This is a hard book for me to review. There are two main reasons for this. The first is the difficult subject matter which I will come back to shortly. The second is the simple fact that several of my Goodreads friends have already read the book and written excellent reviews and I feel like anything I write will look like plagiarism. So, without further ado, I refer you to reviews by

Gumble’s Yard

There is little I can add to these. This book takes an important topic and gives us a visceral but literary story. The topic is domestic violence and associated marital rape, focused here on India but applicable globally. It is at least partly based on the author’s own experiences but is fictionalised for reasons that she explains in the text and which are also explored further in an “afterword” that is an article that effectively reviews the books by considering various people it would be good to give a copy to.

I should note that I read the Atlantic Books paperback edition which has a shortened title ("When I Hit You" rather than the original title which pays homage to Joyce: "When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife"). As others have noted, it’s a shame, I think, that the title has been dumbed down to lose this literary reference because literary references are key to the book (note especially the epigraphs at the start of each chapter that quote from works by women who have written about violence against women). The cover of the edition I read is also slightly confusing until you read the book: it shows a chess piece, a king, which seems odd as you open a book you know to be written by a woman about a woman experiencing domestic abuse. But then you read:

"This battle of adversaries is structured like a chess game. Here, there are only two players. I’m the king, constantly under threat. I’m the king, who can move only one step at any given time. He’s the drama queen. There is no move that he cannot make."

and suddenly the dominant male king on the chess board is transformed into an image of weakness and limitations placed against the (male) queen who can do whatever he/she wants. It becomes a very clever cover.

I'm not going to attempt to add to what the reviews above have already said except to comment on the number of times the book gives us cause to examine ourselves by pointing out how easy it is for people outside a situation to misread it. Our unnamed narrator receives scant support from her parents who essentially advise her to stay in the marriage despite the abuse. The passages where our narrator calls home are heart-breaking. And there are passages such as

"And everywhere, people only encountered normal-ness, an ordinary state of being, the absence of any trouble, because that’s what they had set out to find."


"Quick to condemn, they say my abuser is Sri Lankan Tamil, a Dalit, a Christian. He is none of the above. It is a short-cut to absolve larger society of blame and to make those that are marginalised into the mischief makers."

My recommendation is that you read the reviews I have referenced above. But more than that, I recommend that you read this book because it has important things to say.
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