Sisters of the Sari by Brenda L. Baker

By Ekta R. Garg

April 3, 2013

Rating: Bookmark it!

A woman goes on vacation to India and realizes she has stepped into a way of life completely foreign to her own.  But when she meets a servant suddenly the woman feels a driving need to do something for this person who seems to have nothing and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in life.  The woman makes a radical decision: she will move to India and open a hostel designed to empower women and give them a safe, clean place to live.  Author Brenda L. Baker uses her own personal experiences and an incredible amount of cultural insight to follow this storyline in her debut novel, Sisters of the Sari.

Kiria Langdon runs one of the most successful gaming companies with a level head and a no-nonsense approach.  She has faced her share of personal challenges early in her life, giving her a tough exterior without allowing her to lose her awareness of others.  This awareness allows her to perceive with clarity the plight of Santoshi, the servant woman who helps her on her first day of her Indian vacation.  Wanting to experience India in its truest form, Kiria has shied away from the standard Taj Mahal tours and has traveled instead to the southern Indian city of Chennai.  When Kiria experiences a failed shopping expedition a handful of hours after arriving in Chennai, Santoshi steps forward to help without any expectation of reward or recompense.

The two women have grown up thousands of miles away from each other and in completely different economic surroundings, a fact that comes to Kiria’s attention right away.  When Santoshi parts with a few rupees to help Kiria get back to her hotel, Kiria wants to pay Santoshi back.  She goes to Santoshi’s home and learns it isn’t a home in the real sense: Santoshi lives in a slum with several other women.  An Anglo Indian social worker manages to move Santoshi to different slums every few years, and the dank, dark conditions in these slums mean Santoshi has never experienced anything close to the comforts that Kiria takes for granted.

By Kiria’s own admission she’s not a “bleeding heart…No one has ever accused me of being softhearted.  I don’t do pity.  Which made my growing obsession with Santoshi freakishly perplexing.”

The obsession brings her to a decision: Kiria will do whatever it takes to help Santoshi find a greater sense of self-worth.  She decides to move to India and open a hostel where Santoshi and other women like her can work and live at a standard higher than what society has dictated for them.  During the entire process of this latest adventure in her life, however, Kiria discovers that Santoshi isn’t the only one who needs a booster shot for her self-esteem.

Author Brenda L. Baker actually lived and worked in Chennai in a social services organization, and many of her experiences and the people she met provide the foundation for this debut novel.  Baker’s keen eye focuses on the details of both the physical and societal minutia of a culture.  Despite having grown up in the Western world, Baker manages to deconstruct and demystify some of the core elements in the Indian way of life: the caste system, the disparity between the places of men and women in society there, and the fact that Westerners often don’t make enough allowances for either when dealing with someone born, brought up, and deeply rooted in that system.

I would highly recommend Baker’s book as much for the insights it provides to life in South India as a gateway between the Western world and the Eastern one.  Despite the cliché, Baker really has “bridged the gap” between two cultures.  Sisters of the Sari offers a refreshing style and an enlightened look at India and also shows readers the results of positive culture immersion.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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