The Pakistani Bride by Bapsi Sidhwa

Buy now from Amazon!Situated on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the mountainous region of Kohistan is one of the most remote outposts of the world. When Bapsi Sidhwa set her 1983 debut novel The Pakistani Bride here, she could have never foreseen the region would come into prominence twenty years later-as a suspected hideout for Al Qaeda militants.

Qasim is a Kohistani tribal who loves the hills of his homeland. Upon losing his family to a smallpox epidemic, he moves away in despair to the Punjab region of Pakistan, where he comes across an orphan child, Zaitoon. Qasim adopts the girl, and they settle in the bustling city of Lahore.

When Zaitoon reaches marriageable age, Quasim, in a fit of bucolic nostalgia, decides to marry her to a man of his tribe in the mountains. Zaitoon agrees, but upon reaching Kohistan and meeting her husband, realizes she will never fit into tribal society. The men are harsh and brutal, and disobedient women are punished by death. Zaitoon’s fate provides the note of suspense in the novel.

In many ways, The Pakistani Bride is a typical first novel, serving more as a showcase for the author’s feminist sensibilities rather than her writing skills. It is a rather choppy read: major characters (including Zaitoon’s husband) are introduced late in the narrative, and the plot lacks finesse. Furthermore, Zaitoon, as the title character, might reasonably be expected to have a distinct personality, but is depicted as a generic victim figure, young, pretty, and helpless; her most memorable feature is her ethnicity. The most vivid person in the novel is in fact Quasim’s exuberant friend Nikka, who disappears midway through the narrative never to return.

I was also underwhelmed by the character of Carol, an American married to a Pakistani who shows up in Kohistan with her husband and his friend. A heavy-handed device to explain the setting and society to those unfamiliar with the region, Carol is constantly wondering why are these people like that? Sidhwa also forces a comparison between Carol and Zaitoon upon the unwary reader. When not united by the bond of sisterhood (their eyes meet “in an age-old communion-an understanding they shared of their vulnerabilities as women”), the two women are inevitably separated by a Cultural Divide (“But Carol, a child of the bright Californian sun and surf, could no more understand the beguiling twilight of veils and women’s quarters than Zaitoon could comprehend her independent life in America.”). There’s a strong whiff of cliché hanging about Carol.

Despite the problems mentioned above, The Pakistani Bride is a very moving read, clearly born of sincerity and passion, and Sidhwa’s compassion for the young Zaitoon single-handedly elevates the book into something approaching greatness. If you are exploring Sidhwa’s oeuvre for the first time, though, begin with the excellent Cracking India and take a rain check on The Pakistani Bride.

(This review appears in the current issue of Eclectica.)

10 thoughts on “The Pakistani Bride by Bapsi Sidhwa

  1. Pingback: Rantman » Blog Archive » The World’s Worst Bestman…

  2. The Pakistani Bride is a marvellous read eith the author depicting the Partition through the technique of flashback. In the novel, she raises feminist issues side by side with the effects of dislocation in the main characters. She also expresses beautifully both beauty and horror of the landscape of the majestic Kohistan mountains.
    Sidhwa gives life and colour to her characters that empathy becomes the first impulse while reading her novel.

  3. @ Somte Ralte: Thanks for visiting! I agree, Sidhwa mananges to pull us readers in so we empathize with Zaitoon’s character. I think that’s due to the sincerity and passion of her writing.

  4. the pakistani bride is a novel which elevates the character of a tribal girl zaitoon who survives till the end overcoming all the sufferings in life

  5. bapsi sidhwa has brought about the sufferings of women in her novels but fantabulously challenged life through the characters. she has uplifted all her women characters through her novels. it is really very interesting to read her novels

    • The Pakistani Bride is like that of fevicol ka jod hai. U just can’t leave the buk unless u complete it. A very mind blowing experience. Simply amazing! It’s incredible and not digestible that any society can b so cruel and at the same time any girl like Zaitoon can b so courageous.of course the whole credit is 2 the art of words that kept us stunned and perturbed.

  6. This is one of the best novels among other Pakistani contemporary novels in english. I think there is need to write novels on serious issue regarding the woman status in Northern ares of Pakistani where woman is treated as a possession of man as in case od Zaitoon. Zaitoon who belongs to Punjab but she is married to a tribal man Sakhi who, like other tribal men treats him unjustly as a result of which she fleds away from his home and she is rescued by army men. We can locate such thousands of stories in our Pakistan. We should learn especially men that woman is not an object of possession on whom they can impose their will. Woman have self respect and she wants to be respected by others also. This need should be realized by all people in our Pakistan. One must read this novel, if he has an approach to it, to bring change in his thoughts

  7. wel i have not read the novel yet but we r assigned a prject about this specific novel,i will be able to comment after i complete my project,,but definetly .one thing i would like to say is that as far as the plot line is concerned, my interest is raised to read the whole novel. It is so interesting especially the character of the young girl.

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