Meena Kandasamy 2017 Atlantic Books
When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, is the harrowing story of the narrator as a young wife in an abusive relationship. This book is a novel, a work of fiction but I understand draws on the authors own experiences within an abusive marriage. It is written in the first person narrative by an unnamed narrator, which gives the overall perspective of this being autobiographical.
Regardless of fiction or non fiction this is clearly a story of what happens to many women every day and this makes it an important, insightful read.
From the cover –
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.
Beautifully and poetically written the narrator is intelligent and articulate, she is a modern Indian woman who chooses her husband based on a friendship and shared idealist views. She has loved and lost before and marries, she believes for love and life. Over an astonishingly short period this man isolates his wife, using emotive blackmailing tools, ‘if you loved me..’ and seeks to ‘education’ her on their shared communist goals, dictating to her how a woman should behave.
The narrator notes how quickly her life became her normality
And the more familiar the strange becomes, the more and more strange the familiar appears. That’s how the once-upon-a-time fiery feminist becomes a battered wife.
In a relatively short narrative the author articulately depicts the insidious descent of her relationship into control, violence and rape.
The use of force is always to signal the impending threat of greater force.
Within the Indian culture the notion of shame is prevalent and this contributed to the narrator remaining with her husband. Both her parents encouraged her to endure, advising things would get better and insinuating a level of violence as being common place in a marriage. This coupled with the shocking statistic quoted –
In India, a bride is burnt every 90 minutes…their murders written away as suicides or mishaps…fire has been established as the easiest way to kill an unnecessary wife.
And the shame, the shame of what is happening and the shame of not being believed or of being believed, but then being asked, ‘if it was that bad, why did you not get out sooner’. The character assassination, which serves to seek reasons to justify rape and violence against women. All of this captured in this small 248 page thought provoking, beautifully written book.
Important reading I think for all, with the best will in the world, it is difficult to understand without judgement that which we haven’t experienced. Many books serve to educate us, to offer insight and this is one of those books, set in India where violence against women, shrouded in honour is magnified, however resonating I suspect in all corners of the world.
This was a Twitter competition win from Atlantic Books and not necessarily a book I would have picked up, so huge thanks to Atlantic Books.