The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

roopaGloBooks  finds out whether The Good Children  really was a good read. 

I was fascinated by how they are created,” she said during a recent event for lucky readers at the London based Foreign Fiction Bookclub…. and this fascination underpins her sixth novel The Good Children.

But rather than focus this fascination on a modern-day Hitler or a Joseph Fritzl, Farooki looks for the evil in everyday life, peeling the facade that covers a supposedly happy society family in the midst of the heat of Lahore in post-partition Pakistan to reveal the ugly interior.

While riots rage around them and others wilt under the pressures of a demanding and repressive society, the Saddeq household comprising of a couple, four children and assorted servants, smile through this turbulent period in the history of the Indian subcontinent, albeit with gritted teeth.

Later, the eldest of the four children , Sulaman Saddeq, or Sully, is to become an expert on how evil spread through Nazi Germany and otherwise “normal” people ended up as accomplices to the slaughter of the country’s Jewish population.

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Roopa Farooki  was the Foreign  Fiction Bookclub`s Guest Author

But the real study begins much earlier in his life and that of his siblings.

The Good Children is told through the eyes of the two sons and two daughters of the household. But the central figure, the anti-protagonist, is their sociopath mother, who puts Grimm’s stepmother into the shade with the brutal manner in which she brings up her children and forces them into stereotypes of perfect children – the two boys are designed to be doctors, the two girls to be wives. Thus she becomes of a metaphor for that most callous of monsters – a repressive society.

The story charts the attempt of  each these four children to escape the clutches of the fate she has bestowed on them. But as Sully, the eldest son, finds out, physical distance alone does not banish her ghost.

The story begins with the four children in their teens. Mrs Saddeq is intent on projecting an image of the perfect family. So she trills over her husband’s every word and whips her sons and daughters into shape, forcing them into the stereotypes of perfect children: her sons are sent away to become doctors, her daughter to become good wives.

Perhaps the most compelling portion of the novel is a brief and thrilling few chapters where the eldest daughter Mae, denied her dream of being a doctor like the boys, rebels by playing the role set down for so well that she briefly threatens to take unseat her mother’s place at the head of the household. Eventually, the coup fails and there’s no physical escape for Mae, who stays behind as all three of the others make good their escape, Sully to the U.S. and Jakie to the U.K. where he is followed eventually by Lana.

The rest of the book comprises their adventures in these countries and how each of them come to terms with their upbringing, and it becomes much more about the clash of an old way of living and a new.

Jakie is possibly the most successful, his relationship with Irishman Frank, while far from perfect, allowing him to express his compassionate side and cure his wounds with love, enchantingly portrayed by Farooki.

An improbable adoption of an abused Indian maid and her son by this homosexual couple – surely a hard arrangement to square with society in the 1980s? – and his charitable work in Pakistan further helps him heal.

For the women, the road is a much harder one. Both are trapped by marriages, and yet they eventually do escape in their own ways, the perfidy of their husband’s serving as reasons to leave. Lana eventually follows Jackie to London and establishes a life there.

Even though the subject is a tough one, the book is throughout as compelling as any airport page-turner, and almost worth reading for Farooki’s gorgeous imagery alone. She uses violent images to describe the most domestic of tasks, constantly jarring the reader out of their complacency.

Amma beat us ferociously, as though it was exercise, and something that she needed to stretch and limber up for in advance. Like a local lawman in the villages, charged with administering a hundred lashes to a young rape victim for her adultery.”

For a book that evocatively describes the hardships and injustice women face in society, both in Pakistan and beyond, it’s a pity that she doesn’t spend more time on It is unfortunate, then, that she appears to lose interest in the female half of her set of protagonists, spending a majority of time describing the lives of Sully and Jackie and the various people they meet, Irishman being the most compelling of the side characters.

Lana, and particularly Mae, don’t get this sort of special treatment even though they are arguably the more interesting characters whilst growing up.

It’s easy to get tired of Sully’s morbid and flawed introspection, and the reader has to exercise a large slice of suspension of disbelief when reading about Jakie’s life.The overall impression is of a muscular giant of a book in the making that runs out of steam halfway through the journey.

Farooki’s decision not to delve into arguably the books most interesting character – the mother – except in the most cursory manner, is another point for debate. Given the understanding she shows to almost all the other characters, surely a few chapters exploring her backstop wouldn’t go amiss?

But perhaps the book is the more effective for it. Once dissected, the monster becomes pitiable rather than fascinating. And that fascination is what gives The Good Children its tremendous energy.

The Good Children  (416 pages ) Published by Tinder Press

2016-06-12 09.47.42Abhinav Ramnarayan is a Journalist and Foreign Fiction Blogger 

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The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

THE GOOD WIFE AN ASIA HOUSE EVENT- THE GLOBOOKS REVIEW

The Good Wife Event held recently at Asia House brought together some notable figures  to wax lyrical on the changing roles of women in society. With changing societal dynamics taking place across the region, as people marry later, stay single longer or do not marry at all, just how do women fair in these more liberal times.  Ramita Naval  author of City of Lies  and Eif Shafak of Honour and the Forty Rules of Love bang the world to rights on what is a expansive subject , covering cultural political landscapes.

Just how are womens roles changing? Ramita Naval claims that young people are experimenting, partly against oppression, partly through taking control of their own bodies. Women are getting married later and divorce rates have tripled.

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Author Ramita Naval

 

Interestingly enough there are no generational gaps preventing their parents supporting their children`s choice to divorce. Yet she goes onto reveal that there is now a trend for cohabiting couples or so called “white marriages”. Infact according to an article in LA Times (Feb 2016) Nita Ansari an expert on womens rights, mentions that “many Iranians cohabit before marriage. It’s economical. It’s a way to date and live together and not be bound by the heavy weight of marriage in a country that handicaps its youth at every turn.” ramita

Is education  the answer? Yet Ramita says that more women are going to university but it is not translating into careers for women and  that is the litmus test for any modern independent woman.

According to author Elif Shafak,Turkey is a country full of contradictions .”During the republican era, for the modernists, it was incredibly important to achieve genuine equality. It was the major goal of the new mission state. Women were expected to defeminise themselves. “

According  to Shafak,there are now lots of progressive laws. Yet in local and national politics, women are almost  non- existent, and those who are active, have to defeminise themselves. “In  society you always  have to respect the matriarch,once you are old, you are something completely different but then you are respected. However the matriarch does not help other women and therefore this maintains the status quo. In liberal circles, it is no different, especially in literature. what worrys me is that it is becoming more and more conservative in its fabric.”

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Author Elif Shafak

 

Are illiberal , conservative attitudes confined to the older generation?  “It doesn’t mean young women are more progressive. I wish it did. These  women are globally connected but there are women that are doing just the opposite. So we need to analyse how it works. Its a reaction to the West and a reaction to their parents.”    elif

 

 

Literature Programme Manager for Asia House  Jemimah Steinfeld explained just why it was important to hold the event.”Firstly its an important conversation to have. In recent years feminism has really been put on the map as evidenced by many different initiatives.. ”

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Programme Manager Jemimah Steinfeld

 

 

 

“But that does not necessarily mean we are witnessing enough positive change. Its important to continue these conversations in a bid to bring about the needed change.”

 

 “I for one walked away feeling like I knew a lot more about what was going on in India and Iran, whilst Elif Shafak is a very emotional insight into the rollback of women`s rights in Turkey felt like a call for action.”

Full of revelations, the debate shined a  light on the whole subject of womens equality or lack of it.  It provided irrefutable evidence of how far the pursuit of female equality has come but definitely how far it still needs to go. Shafak`s damming conclusion of a regression of women`s rights in Turkey made you ask just how will you halt that regression and just how soon will it happen  and more to the point, could we see it occurring elsewhere in the world?

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THE GOOD WIFE AN ASIA HOUSE EVENT- THE GLOBOOKS REVIEW