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Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite
Life Out Of Reach - Spare Burden covers the first 16 years of the author’s life with her Indian parents who had emigrated and settled in the Birmingham area of England. The family is large, but Jas’s earliest memories are of her Mam, her grandmother, who passed away when she was very young. The whole family is ruled by her grandfather, whose way of life strictly adheres to their culture and practices as they are followed in India. In one respect, Jas is lucky as her parents appear to be more modern, encouraging their children to get an education. However, the downside is that Jas is the second eldest of 6 girls, and this is almost a mark of shame in the Sikh Punjabi community. ‘Girls are a burden’ is a theme throughout the book; a boy is of more value. The easiest way to get rid of the burden is to marry the girls off as soon as they are old enough; 16 in Britain although it would have been earlier back home. There is even a suggestion that Jas’s grandfather had disposed of some of his female children at birth. Jas recounts her early years and her school days until she is in her first year studying for her A levels. She plans to go on to university to read English and then become a journalist. She longs to be free, and spends many hours reading, her window into a wider world. While she envies those white girls she meets at school, she is a dutiful daughter and obeys her parents in everything. But there is a shock at the end which leaves the reader stunned.
I am so thrilled that I picked up Life Out Of Reach - Spare Burden by Jas Dosanjh. I would love this book to be on the prescribed list for all schoolchildren in Britain and also for their parents. This book blows the lid off Indian culture and customs. It highlights the brutal oppression the men have over their women, down to the last detail. It shows how the family members spy on their female children if they so much as talk to a member of the opposite sex, due to the desperate fear their girls will not remain pure for marriage. Their stranglehold is far worse than I ever even suspected. While arranged marriages are common, the small amount of time the young people have to get to know each other is horrific and if anything goes wrong, it is always the woman to blame.
I also had no idea how much animosity there is between different Indian castes and religions, Sikhs and Muslims and their refusal to integrate into other cultures in their new country. There is too the underlying hatred and disdain towards the British for ruling India in the past and the cruel treatment suffered under the occupation. Much of this spills out in the playground of a British school, causing huge problems for Jas as she is happy to be friendly with white girls, Muslims and simply judges people by the way they behave and not their genealogical background and beliefs. She plans a very different future for herself, free of the claustrophobic age-old practices she sees as pointless, most of which reinforce the total domination of men in Indian society. The extent to which the selfishness and self-obsession of the males in families about how their children might shame and embarrass them overrides any parental love and care, and is astounding. This book blew me away, opened my eyes and left me reeling. I understand there will be more in the series and I can’t wait for the next one to come out. I shall be eagerly waiting to read it as I’m sure it will be as well written as this first book. A well deserved 5 stars.