‘When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife‘ by Meena Kandasamy got released last year and I added it to my TBR immediately since it is a semi-autobiographical account of marital abuse. The author underwent abuse from her husband and this book is a fictionalized version of that. I had never read a book on domestic violence and considering this was by an Indian author, I was even more intrigued. What made me finally pick this book was the fact that this book got short listed to 2018 Bailey’s prize for women’s fiction. Link for the shortlist. I only saw positive reviews for this book everywhere and that made me pick it up.
The unnamed protagonist in this book moves to a new city with her husband after their wedding. The husband who is an educated man and a college lecturer starts treating her very badly and she has no friends or family to turn to in that city. I have seen such things happen to women who marry a man who is settled in a foreign country too. They have no idea what kind of hell they would be living in when they get married. These men show their true colors only after marriage. Some descriptions by the author brought a lump in my throat. But Meena has written in a detached manner because of which this book even though it is hard hitting, it is not overtly emotional or melodramatic.
“I think what you know in a language shows who you are in relation to that language.”
Her husband makes her deactivate her Facebook account, limits her internet usage to half an hour a day (when he can monitor the usage), he asks her to change her mobile sim card and not share her number with any of her friends, takes passwords for all her email accounts and monitors her emails – basically he is a control freak and an insecure person who is scared that she might leave him and in turn, makes her life hell. But to the outside world, he paints a different picture. Everyone believes that her husband is a good man and that they are a happy couple. Even the main protagonist’s parents don’t believe her. He even physically abuses and rapes her.
“When he hits me, the terror follows from the instinct that this will go further, that this does not end easily…”
“This is the man breaking his own wife. This is a man burning down his own house.”
This book should be made a must read for every single girl or woman in India and also the world. I had always heard about domestic violence but I never knew what it was like for the victim. Thanks to this brilliant eye-opening book, I now understand how abusive some men can be. I also wondered why women put up with abusive husbands for years together. I see women post about their abusive and miserable husbands on forums and groups so I was always puzzled why would it be so difficult for them to make a decision about leaving the husband.
Thanks to this book, I understand how women are broken down and manipulated by such abusive husbands and how difficult it is to escape from such a hell. It’s easy to say “just leave or fight” but very difficult to actually do something when you are in that position. What really stuck a chord with me was seeing how similar Meena’s story was with the story of one of my aunts, who had an abusive husband just like the one in this book. What made the life of my aunt even more miserable was having parents who did not support her. I always feel the parents who do not support their children when they are in distress should be slapped.
“In the eyes of the world, a woman who runs away from death is more dignified than a woman who runs away from her man.”
I had heard so many stories about abusive husbands that I was scared to even marry. What if my husband turned out to be an alcoholic or one of those control freaks? There are men who suspect their wife has an affair with every male friend she has or men who just want their wife to be like a maid servant and not question them for anything. Thankfully, I did not end up with such a guy and I was lucky.
But what about those women who have rotten luck and end up with such men? What happens to such women? Read this book to figure out. She also talks about the reaction from the society upon hearing her story. How people still blame her and try to find something good in her abusive husband. He abused her and any redeemable qualities he had are useless. I also liked the section at the end that lists all the people you should give this book to.
“I realize that this is the curse of victimhood, to feel compelled to lend an appropriate colour of goodness to their abuser.”
I hope this book ends up winning the women’s prize. The prose is beautiful and poetic. The narrative style was very different and I found it difficult to put the book down because of that. This was a much needed book, especially considering how horribly women and brides are still treated in India. She even brings up the topics about burning brides and rapes. I am definitely going to try her other books since she is an amazing writer.
There is a Q&A with the author at the Women’s Prize website – Link.
Must read. Brilliant. I gave this book 4.5 stars.