Killer wives: A review of The Bandit Queens

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff is an inspirational story about women surviving and overcoming their abusive marriages, and making their own choices in a small Indian village where gossip and patriarchy rule. It is the story of Geeta, a woman whose cruel husband walked out on her five years ago. Everyone thinks that Geeta killed him and so, she became the focus of the village’s gossip and churel that everyone feared. Geeta identified with Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen who took revenge on all the men who abused, beat, kidnapped, and raped her. Geeta’s dangerous reputation served her well because she used her freedom to start her own business. However, soon enough, other women asked for her help to kill their abusive husbands.

I was very impressed with the author’s excellent writing style, and vivid dialogues and character descriptions. I learned what it was like to be a married Indian woman, abused or neglected by her husband; what life was like in a poor Indian village for lower-class citizens; and how lucky Americans are to live in a country of opportunities and freedom.

The author’s purpose of writing this story is clear. She wanted it to be “an inspiration to any woman seeking to make her own choices in a world where she is told, and her circumstances consistently confirm, that men will make her choices for her.” (p. 199). She sought to address domestic abuse, gender discrimination, patriarchy, and female friendships, but by adding a touch of humor to these troubling issues.

The narrative includes several Indian exclamations and words such as Oi, na, jhadu, shabash, and many more, which are a wonderful addition to the American text. The author provides some translations of these words. For example: she describes Geeta as a churel (witch); she defines panchayat as the village council; and she translates burin azar as the evil eye.However, as a non-Indian speaking reader, I would have liked to see such words and their translations in a glossary.

Here’s what impressed me:

  • The author educated me about the lifestyle of lower-class citizens in another country (India), and made me appreciate America. She gave me a glimpse into the Indian culture, superstitions, and folklore such as:
  1. The Karva Chauth celebration.
  2. Childless women who were pitied.
  3. The removal of the nose ring, a symbol of widowhood.
  4. The Dalit men who collected, prepared, and burnt corpses of humans and animals.
  5. Open defecation, sanitation issues, public toilets, and pit latrines.
  6. Microloans that created business opportunities for women.
  • I learned some Indian words including drink and food names such as tharra and paan.
  • The author tackles serious issues of domestic abuse, gender inequality, and animal cruelty with humor.
  • The story is rich in realistic, and humorous, dialogue.
  • I absolutely love the unique metaphors and idioms the author uses to convey an image, a feeling, or both. My favorite examples are:
  1. Various endings to her abandoned sentence whipped around the room like detached lizard tails. (p. 12).
  2. About marriage: The necklace the men tied to [women], it was no prettier than the rope tying a goat to a tree, depriving it of freedom. (p.48).
  3. After eating nine hundred mice, the cat goes to Hajj. (p. 110).
  4. If you can’t get the butter with a straight finger then use a crooked one. (p.136).
  5. Something’s black in the lentils. (p. 199).

This story made me laugh, sympathize with the female characters, and admire the author’s writing skills. I would love to see it made into a movie. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free digital copy of this wonderful book.

  • Copyright © Harikleia Georgiou Sirmans 2011-2022. All rights reserved.
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