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Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture Hardcover – 27 Sep 2013
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'Gaiutra Bahadur has produced an intricate, thoroughly researched and beautifully written book that evokes the experience of emigrant Indians and their descendants.' --Times Literary Supplement
'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture is a genealogical page-turner interwoven with a compelling, radical history of empire told from the perspective of indentured women. The collective voice of the jehaji behen (ship sisters) has been barely audible across the centuries, until now ... Bahadur grants us rare imaginative access to the odyssey through the experience of women's stories she finds in the archives.' --The Guardian
'In her remarkable book, Gaiutra Bahadur chronicles the extraordinary but neglected saga of indentured labour that evolved when the British began to replace slavery on their sugar plantations worldwide. But the book is more than this: it is also a highly personal account that traces the history of the author's maternal line to the present day. As Bahadur clambers down the generations, she provides the reader with a meticulous and lushly detailed family memoir. ...This is a fascinating story, which will have resonance for millions of others who are swept up and transformed by history and have to find a new way to create 'home'.' --Literary Review
'With Coolie Woman, Bahadur lifts the veil of anonymity. She combines her journalistic eye for detail and story-telling gifts with probing questions, relentlessly pursuing leads to create a haunting portrait of the life of a subaltern. 'Can the subaltern speak?' the theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak had asked rhetorically. Yes, she can. Through the story of Sheojari, Bahadur shows how.' (The Independent)
'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture is a genealogical page-turner interwoven with a compelling, radical history of empire told from the perspective of indentured women. The collective voice of the jehaji behen (ship sisters) has been barely audible across the centuries, until now ... Bahadur grants us rare imaginative access to the odyssey through the experience of women's stories she finds in the archives.' (The Guardian)
'Gaiutra Bahadur has produced an intricate, thoroughly researched and beautifully written book that evokes the experience of emigrant Indians and their descendants.' (Times Literary Supplement)
'In her remarkable book, Gaiutra Bahadur chronicles the extraordinary but neglected saga of indentured labour that evolved when the British began to replace slavery on their sugar plantations worldwide. But the book is more than this: it is also a highly personal account that traces the history of the author s maternal line to the present day. As Bahadur clambers down the generations, she provides the reader with a meticulous and lushly detailed family memoir. ...This is a fascinating story, which will have resonance for millions of others who are swept up and transformed by history and have to find a new way to create 'home'.' (Literary Review)
' …an epic and remarkably revealing account of love, intrigue, betrayal, and murder on the sugar plantations … Bahadur has shed unexpected light on the origins of sexual violence in many a dislocated community.' (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
'In this fine book, Gaiutra Bahadur probes the hidden world of these indentured women. … Bahadur' s research (conducted in Guyana, India, and the United Kingdom) is deep and meticulous in both primary and secondary literature, and the story is told with the novelist's practiced eye for the telling detail. Good history here is a good read as well. And along the way, we catch glimpses of the sordid world of servitude and suffering on the colonial plantations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries across the world.' (The Journal of Asian Studies)
'An astonishing document… both a historical rescue mission and a profound meditation on family and womanhood, Bahadur's Coolie Woman spans continents and centuries, the private and national, to bring to light the extraordinary lives of the author's great-grandmother and the other quarter of a million kuli women that came to the New World as indentured laborers. Bahadur's meticulous research and tireless perseverance have restored an important chapter in our histories ― outstanding work.' (Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her)
'I thought I knew something about slavery and forced labour, having written two books on the subject. And I thought I knew something about immigration to the New World. But Gaiutra Bahadur's book made me realise how the experience of a whole generation of women like her great-grandmother profoundly challenges the various stereotypes we have. This is a highly original combination of careful scholarship and well-told personal journey.' (Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: the British Struggle to Abolish Slavery)
'With the exhilarating meticulousness of a period film, Coolie Woman recreates a vanished world and casts a personal searchlight on the saga of indenture. Gaiutra Bahadur rescues her great-grandmother Sujaria and other 'coolie' women from the archives by means of a narrative that is both scholarly and soulful. In detailing the bitter journeys of her forebears, in making their astonishing experiences real and sympathetic, and in registering the complexities of their lives -- not least the extent to which they made choices where one might have expected helplessness -- Bahadur honours their memories and shows herself their worthy descendant.' (Teju Cole, author of Open City)
'Coolie Woman is an important, unmissable account. From colonialism to labour in India, immigrant narratives to the hidden lives of women, Ms Bahadur excavates a rich and unforgettable set of stories that will permanently change our view of the past.' (Business Standard)
'At one level this is a family history, as the author…searches for her roots. At a deeper level, it explores the social history of indentured labour and the imperial policies by which it was governed… It is a colourful story, well told.' (Asian Affairs)
'…a moving, foundational book, investigating the experience of indentured Indian women in the Caribbean. It is solidly researched and as such it reveals the difficulty of understanding the human lives concealed within documents. Bahadur delicately reconstructs these women's lives, seen only through a glass darkly, piecing them together with respect and even admiration. This is a book that will both be of great use to scholars and a compelling text for non-specialists.' (Women's Review of Books)
'Bahadur's passion shines through … Its real success is to balance Bahadur's personal tale of discovery with the broader story of the 250,000 other “coolie women” who fled sometimes tricky personal circumstances in India only to find their new lives were another battle for survival.' (The National) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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I read 'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture' with voyeuristic pleasure !
Bahadur uses her family history as a starting point and coming back to it time and time again it helps to maintain the flow of the writing so it doesn't become too academic. However it is very well researched. It was educational and informative. From the recruiters offices in India to the loogie accommodation on the backdams of the Sugar Cane Fields in Guyana. The abuse and rapes near starvation on the ships passage over, to the abuse and rapes for the rest of the lives in Guyana. The shortage of Indian women was to remain an important issue for many years and to mediate this there is an assignment of a "husband" without any input from either party. The violence in the community is not played down and many women were abused and killed at the hands of same husband with a cutlass as they were blamed for speaking/looking at another man. Plus the use of these women by white Overseers despite the Colonial Offices attempts to eliminate such activity. Shocking information that I really had absolutely no idea about. Yet one or two Coolie women were stubborn & strong, managing to succeed and acquire wealth to survive comfortably without the aggravation of a "husband" foisted upon them.
The British Colonialist moved many Indians all over the world as workforce was needed, yet they held on tentatively in some case to the culture they came from over a 100 years ago, pigin Hindi, Bollywood and some regligious cermonies (gold jewellery!!) They lost their names, often simply using pet names and their village names as Indians did not have surnames. They forgot the villages the came from and became "polluted" because they were obliged to marry out of their caste.
Found in Guyana, Trinidad, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, Uganda they survived. This is a excellent book that really documents their trials and tribulations. A small few returned at the end of their contracts, the last returnee boat as late as the 1950s, but on arrival were unable to cope with a new divided India. About a quarter eventually returned back to Guyana.
I was enthralled by this book wish I had read it sooner. It educated me to one of my ancestors who made this journey to Guyana and whose name is lost to history. Could I survive what she went through?
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