Update: Anansi Review Crew reviews can no longer be found on the House of Anansi Press website, so here is my review of Valmiki’s Daughter below.
Internal conflicts and social struggles are at the heart of Shani Mootoo’s latest novel. Well-rounded characters draw you in and push and pull you in every direction, making it impossible to judge them objectively, harshly.
Valmiki, a man who is distinctly dislikeable, demands to be understood by the reader and succeeds. He thus evokes frustration at the limitations of his upper middle class Indian-Trinidadian society. Viveka, his eldest daughter, initially disappoints. Her exterior representation of herself appears at odds with her self-doubt, but as Viveka becomes herself, she grows into her projection of herself.
In Valmiki’s Daughter, societal restraints and cultural conventions haunt the Krishnu and Prakash families and those around them. The pain of the unremembered past, that of ancestral indentured servitude, collides with the ache of fresher memories, jumbled memories, family scandals.
The story’s conclusion is bleak — hope, the triumph of individuality, is not a cliché but a distant possibility that rests on Viveka’s disengagement from conformity, her strength to continue becoming, her recognition that her journey does not end with realization, her courage in complying with peer expectations only as a means to personal growth and freedom. We are not granted a tight-knit, satisfying conclusion in which these elements come together; rather, we must put our trust in Viveka that she will not become Valmiki or any of the other characters with whom she interacts throughout the narrative.