'The Tiger Ladies' transports the reader back in time to a once-beautiful region whose magnificent lakes and forests come alive through Sudha Koul's prose elegant and precisely detailed prose. Her unusual use of structure - she has roughly divided her memoir into three long 'sections' instead of using conventional chapters - perfectly complements the autobiographical nature of this work, as it shows that life is fluid and ongoing and cannot be sandwiched into neat compartments. This matches the themes of tradition and heritage that are interwoven in the text.
After I had formed a warm attachment to Sudha's hot-tempered and ever-laughing grandmother, picnicked with them on a boat belonging to an old milk-mother, and made offerings alongside the family at a remote temple, I wanted to cry in pain when Koul turned her pen to the valley's destruction. Her agonising description of her family's exile and the politics that destroyed the Kashmir they knew adds an ironic twist to the tale: 'tiger ladies' may be names bestowed on Hindu goddesses, and Koul may draw parallels between them and the women of Kashmir, but in the end no deity steps forward to avert the tragedy.
A must-read for anyone who has ever wondered what it must feel like to lose home, heritage, and everything they have ever known.