21st Century Literature discussion

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife
This topic is about When I Hit You
66 views
2018 Book Discussions > When I Hit You - Whole Book (Spoilers welcome) (July 2018)

Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I have decided that one spoiler thread is enough this time because the book is not a long one and has no major break points. I expect to finish the book later today and will add some starter questions and initial thoughts then.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 188 comments Will start with a controversial one. I had one huge issue with the book - certainly with the narrator, but given comments in interviewers possibly with the author's views as well.

It is that she sympathises with an ideology which ultimately believes in prejudice and violence against people because of their identity, and which isn't ultimately much better than the misogyny that is the book's subject.

So for example, when addressing how she sometimes found herself pressured to point out her abusive husband's good points, she says:

I realize that this is the curse of victimhood, to feel compelled to lend an appropriate colour of goodness to their abuser. 'Father forgive them, they know not what they do.' The landlord's benevolence, the overseer's kindness, the criminal's humour, the wife-beater's punctuality.

So the nature of the 'abusers' she lists: wife beaters and at one end but benevolent landlords and kind overseers at the other- i.e. in the narrator's worldview even the best of landlords and overseers are abusers simply by virtue of their role in life, and not to be forgiven.

Ultimately ideologies like Marxism, just as those of the alt-right, beget hatred and prejudice and violence of all forms, the misogyny (and anti-semitism) of the UK hard left the most obvious topic example, and it is a massive pity that the narrator (and seemingly the author from interviews) doesn't see it.


message 3: by Hugh (last edited Jul 02, 2018 01:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I have just finished the book and was very impressed, though for me as a man it feels too raw and personal to judge purely on literary merits. I hope to hear some female voices soon.

I might get involved in discussing the politics later (and I accept that Paul's point is a good one) but I don't think we should let that dominate the discussion, because the book feels vital and compelling as a purely personal account.


message 4: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 73 comments I read this a few months ago so I might not be up on details.
I agree with Hugh that the main point of this is the domestic violence and not the political ideology. She has specifically stated that she wants to point out the hypocrisy of abusing women in an ideology that is supposed to be about equality. Taking issue with Marxism is diverting from what this book wants to shed light on.


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments I had a difficult time getting a copy of this, but have finally received it. I'll be joining in the conversation soon


Meike (meikereads) Kay wrote: "I read this a few months ago so I might not be up on details.
I agree with Hugh that the main point of this is the domestic violence and not the political ideology. She has specifically stated tha..."


I agree with you, Hugh and Kay. The reference to communism underlines Katasamy's point about hypocrisy: While pretending to fight for the rights of oppressed workers, the husband 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 twisted means of self-justification - it's a perversion of a system of thought so that it serves his own purpose. In a wider context, one might even say that it stands for the gap between theory and reality. (And btw: Socialism, Communism, Marxism, the ideas of the radical left and Stalinism are not all the same thing.)

What I found most fascinating about the book are the parts in which Katasamy discusses how she was confronted with voices blaming her by saying things like "Why didn't you just leave?" - I think it's very common that people (men and women) in abusive relationships are asked these kinds of questions, because outsiders do not grasp the psychological dynamics at play - the shame, the denial, the desperation. The situation might be worse in India, but the basic problem is still pretty much universal, unfortunately.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks Meike. I felt she did a pretty good job of explaining why she couldn't escape earlier.

Do we have any views on whether this is a novel or a slightly fictionalised memoir?

How do we feel about Kandasamy's writing style? She seems very fond of long lists of paragraphs that start with the same first few words - to me this made it feel a bit like the text of a speech.


message 8: by PS (new)

PS I skimmed through this one (the writing style and subject matter didn’t appeal to me – a lot of my research deals with women’s human rights so this was too close to “work” for me) last year. Maybe it’s time to read it properly!

She was married for four months in real life (is she/ her character married for longer in the book?) which is why I’m curious why she focuses on the question “why didn’t you leave earlier?” in her interviews considering that for the majority of domestic violence survivors it can be YEARS before they leave/consider leaving. (I can’t remember the stats off hand).


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 188 comments Hugh wrote: "Do we have any views on whether this is a novel or a slightly fictionalised memoir? "

This interview is well worth reading
https://thewire.in/books/meena-kandas...

She is careful to make it clear that the book is fiction - she is not the narrator, even though she did suffer a 'brief but tumultuous, violent marriage in 2011' during the time she was writing her first novel The Gypsy Goddess, which was about the Kilvenmani massacre in 1968.

Indeed via that book she gives one of my best 'but it's really about you isn't it' anecdotes I've heard:
I was once reading in Heidelberg, when a German woman claimed that the only reason I could write so realistically about Kilvenmani was because I was there! And I was like, no, I was born like nearly two decades later – and she was like, no, you were there, you were there. It was your previous birth. I don’t know what to say when someone throws the idea of reincarnation in my face – but it taught me something. You can write about anything, and people will assume that it is about you, and find ways to believe that it is indeed about you.

Having said that, this novel is shamelessly informed by my own experience. This is not the exact way in which things happened – my mind had blocked out a lot of the sadness and unpleasantness and trauma, possibly as coping mechanisms. But this is how I remember them, and this is how the form of a novel allows me to give memory some coherence. It was to allow any reader to imagine herself in the shoes of the narrator, I left my narrator unnamed, undescribed even. She could be any woman. The specifics, the manifestations, the exact words may vary from one abusive marriage to another – but the woman’s experience of subjugation, humiliation, obliteration and pain largely remain the same.



Meike (meikereads) In a way, she uses a classic literary approach: "This novel is shamelessly informed by my own experience". The interesting part is that she reflects that trauma influenced her memory, and that the novel is also a means to give "memory some coherence" - she basically says that she's an unreliable author due to the nature of the events that are the basis for this book: "this is how I remember them."

It is especially the last sentence that underlines the character of the book as a particular kind of memoir, while at the same time, Kandasamy took some literary measure to lift the text above her own experience ("she could be any woman"). Kandasamy directly talks about her marriage here: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/h...

Btw: Jan Assmann and Aleida Assmann just won the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for their writing on the nature of memory, so in case someone is interested, their work is well worth reading! :-)


message 11: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks Paul and Meike - that is very helpful. Sometimes one wonders whether things are fictionalised for purely legal reasons, but in this case there must be more to the story than that - as Meike says it is a classic literary approach.


message 12: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 73 comments I was trying to figure out how to conceptualize the way I thought Kandasamy wrote this book, so thank you, Meike, for pointing out there is an actual term for that.

The best part for me with this book was the realism of how domestic abuse builds on each act until one finds themselves in a situation they thought they will never be, as well as the emphasis that even a well-educated person could become subjected to abuse.


message 13: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
I found this book pretty riveting and was amazed at the way Kandasamy makes the story resonate emotionally (I had to put it down at one point today to sort of recover emotionally first, before finishing up later in the day), while also breaking things down from so many different vantage points. It's like the reader gets to disassociate along with the narrator. Having finished a few hours ago, I may still be too bowled over to offer anything much more substantive tonight...


Meike (meikereads) Kay, Marc, I feel like you are both pointing to something essential here: The narrator finds herself in a situation she thought she never would be in, and there's the aspect of disassociation which is one factor that leads to her being unable to react earlier. I think Kandasamy does an amazing job describing this effect of abuse!

Like Hugh, I would love to hear other people's thoughts on Kandasamy's language, especially her use of sarcasm/humor!


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments I'm half way through the book. I think the authors depiction of the abuser/victim roles is extraordinarily clear and gives a disturbing and accurate look into these types of relationships.

Meike...I found the humor/sarcasm interesting. It allows the reader to continue what could otherwise be too disturbing a read.


message 16: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 309 comments I've just finished this. I wrote a review, but the main thing that review did was point at other peoples' reviews because others have already said all the main things I was thinking!

I'm not sure I interpreted the passage Paul has issues with in the same way. It didn't feel to me like the author was saying "even the best of landlords and overseers are abusers simply by virtue of their role in life" but more saying that society forces victims to see something good in their abuser. I'm not sure I can explain it properly, but it didn't raise the same issues for me. Happy to discuss that further here.

But an immensely powerful book.


Meike (meikereads) Linda, I guess you are right! I also felt like that at the same time, the sarcasm underlines the gravity of the situation, so the effect is somewhat contradictory, which is of course a brilliant move by Kandasamy!


Beverly | 142 comments Paul wrote: "Hugh wrote: "Do we have any views on whether this is a novel or a slightly fictionalised memoir? "

This interview is well worth reading
https://thewire.in/books/meena-kandas...

..."


Thank you for sharing.
I found the interview to be informing and helped me to understand what the tone & style of the book will be as it explains a little about the author's mindset.


Beverly | 142 comments I am about 1/2 way through this book.

While it is definitely a read while drinking a glass of wine book for me, I am finding the author's style refreshing and very approaching.

The way the author is getting into the head of the unnamed narrator is insightful. It is done with dignity despite the situation. I found this interesting to the first chapter when the mother is telling the story of her daughter for in some ways for the mother's own good and promotion.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments Despite the gravity of the topic, I found this book to be very approachable in style. While a relatively short book, it was not one I could read quickly - it required many breaks. I appreciate that some of the things she wrote humorous and maybe they did break up the horror of the mental and physical abuse, but when reading the book, I did not find any of them funny.

As Sophia notes, I am surprised that her friends focused on the question "why didn't you leave" when she only stayed with the abuser for four months. I was surprised that she left after only four months, especially given the reactions of her parents when she first told them about the abuse.

I saw the issue Paul notes, but, at least for me, it did not detract from the message about spousal abuse that the book as a whole is sending.


message 21: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
LindaJ^, the fact that all this happened in four months astounded me. It seemed like something that would be more gradual and the author makes it seem more gradual so that I was shocked every time I was reminded of the actual timespan in which all this occurs. I think it also explains some of why otherwise flag-raising behaviors might be overlooked, excused at first, or believe to be temporary or an anomaly.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments Marc wrote: "LindaJ^, the fact that all this happened in four months astounded me. It seemed like something that would be more gradual and the author makes it seem more gradual so that I was shocked every time ..."

I agree - it seemed like forever to me and I'm sure it felt like it for the woman.


Kristina | 66 comments I finished this book yesterday and I had the feeling that I would need some time before writing down my thoughts on this book. I really loved this book, if it is possible to say it about a book like this.
It was hard to continue reading and at the same time it was impossible for me to put it down. Somewhere I saw, that somebody described her language as raw but yet poetic and I think that fits it exactly. I loved how she wrote this book. The iterations, when she began some paragraphs with the same sentence which made it feel like a speech, although that does not quite gets it. It was so emotinla, but yet witty and it had a dark humour in it which made it possible to read through. The rape scenes were hard to take in but she managed to not make it voyeuristic but poetical in a painful way.
What really made me angry while reading it, was the reaction of her parents, which sure resulted from society's expectations and norms, so I was more angry at society to make it even harder for her to escape her marriage.

The time that her marriage lasts is actually very interesting, it feels so long while reading it, although she is quite transperant from the beginning how long this marriage has last and it makes it even harder to read, because you would assume that an escalation in this dimension would take more time.

I really loved how all questions by critcs, why she did not leave him or why she would get herself in such a situation were addressed and answered so brilliantly which made the situation in which the protagonist finds herself even more clear and painful.

So far, this book was one of the greatest reads of my year.


Kristina | 66 comments To add, what also left me wondering that her husband was described as a communist professor. For me, the belief in communism in this extreme way was more to be find in the sixties/seventies, so I was wondering whether this ideology is really still such a big topic in India or if it was a way to show the husband's hypocrisy. In general, I liked how I have learned so much about Indian society - even if it included negative aspects as the burning of brides or double standards and violence against women. The description of the bachelor politican was such a strange and interesting concept to me, it somehow stuck in my mind.


Kristina | 66 comments Paul wrote: "Will start with a controversial one. I had one huge issue with the book - certainly with the narrator, but given comments in interviewers possibly with the author's views as well.

It is that she s..."


I understand this that people want to understand how somebody who seems that normal can behave that cruelly. So, they are asking for positive characteristics, no matter what the story of the victim is, indicating that there must have been some misbehaviour of the victim to trigger this violence. Similar to, when in newspaper articles friends or family of the rapist claim that he is such a good person, who only did one mistake and that this should be acknowledged. So maybe it mirrors the difficulty to comprehend how somebody can do something that horrible while acting in other situation like a decent person.


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Marc wrote: "LindaJ^, the fact that all this happened in four months astounded me. It seemed like something that would be more gradual and the author makes it seem more gradual so that I was shocke..."
Was it the author's intent to show how such a short time could feel like an eternity?


message 27: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Nutmegger wrote: "Was it the author's intent to show how such a short time could feel like an eternity?"

Given how deliberate and thoughtful a writer Kandasamy appears to be, I'd have to say yes. There were so many small steps, especially toward isolation--shutting down her Facebook, taking over e-mails, restricting her use of the phone, etc. And the way many were posited as helping to protect them from the husband's past or to secure their future.

I had similar reactions to Kristina and others about the parents and their initial response to their daughter. Did a wonderful job of making it believable as to why any victim would start to question their own sanity or be willing to believe that maybe these warning signs might only be temporary behaviors.


Beverly | 142 comments I have finished this book and still gathering my thoughts.
But initial thoughts were wow, unflinching, urgent and unapologetic.


Beverly | 142 comments Marc wrote: "Nutmegger wrote: "Was it the author's intent to show how such a short time could feel like an eternity?"

Given how deliberate and thoughtful a writer Kandasamy appears to be, I'd have to say yes. ..."


I agree that the author wanted to write about how a person loses their autonomy through domestic abuse.

I also think that it was a good idea to do this within a short time period as for me storylines this forthright and poignant work best in getting their point across if they the story does not seem to go on too longer which could have happened if longer.

Also this was the wife/writer’s story and if a longer period then we as readers may of focused more and more why didn’t others help her.

I also liked that there are no names just the characters role(s).


message 30: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks to all of you for making this such an interesting discussion. Keep them coming!


Beverly | 142 comments I have finally found my notes and have a few more comments to add to the others on why this book was so compelling.

I thought the author did a great job at building and maintaining the tension and how she kept building the urgency of the situation as each chapter went by I was getting more anxious and wondered if she would survive (even though from the beginning I knew she would survive).

I also thought that the quotes before each of the chapters were all spot-on and gave a hint to the tone for that chapter.

I am glad that this book has been so well received as it is a necessary story deserves attention.


message 32: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 73 comments I thought the author did a great job at building and maintaining the tension and how she kept building the urgency of the situation as each chapter went by I was getting more anxious and wondered if she would survive (even though from the beginning I knew she would survive)."
I totally agree, Beverly.


message 33: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion - your comments have been very interesting


Kristina | 66 comments I also really enjoyed this discussion, especially since I loved reading this emotionally challenging book.


Barbara (bdegar) | 9 comments Kay wrote: "I read this a few months ago so I might not be up on details.
I agree with Hugh that the main point of this is the domestic violence and not the political ideology. She has specifically stated tha..."

I'm new here, I read this last spring and I have to agree that it's important to focus on the domestic violence. To get side tracked into debates about political ideology dilutes the message of this book.


back to top