“THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE,”
PUBLICATION: CINNAMON PRESS; NOVEMBER 9, 2015
Synopsis: Tajikistan is a harsh place of political and religious repression. It remains deeply patriarchal. The first modern-day novel in English describing Tajikistan, The Disobedient Wife is dedicated to the women of Tajikistan.
The Disobedient Wife tells the story of two very different women, both trapped in a fabric of a social environment that is hostile to them. Harriet Simenon is the rich wife of a powerful expat business man, with all the privilege that entails; yet her journal portrays a darker interior world of isolation and loneliness. Nagris is her Tajik nanny and maid who struggles with poverty and her subordinate role both at work and as a woman in society in general. Yet Nagris possesses a strength that Harriet comes to admire. As Harriet’s life unravels against a backdrop of violence and betrayal Nagris becomes her support and an unexpected friendship develops.
In a narrative rich with a sense of place and deeply humane, Milisic-Stanley brings the acute observation of an artist and social anthropologist to bear on this compelling story of two women surviving and thriving in difficult circumstances.
This absolutely amazing novel is set in Tajikistan, telling the stories of two women: Nargis, a Tajik nanny and maid who was once widowed and then risked shame and the loss of one of her children to leave an abusive man whom she did not love. Her employer, Harriet, is in Tajikistan with her husband and two children, there temporarily due to his job. Harriet and her children want for nothing, having wealth to allow them every want or need. Nargis lives in a tiny shack with two of her children, her parents, and her 18-year-0ld brother. Bathroom and bathing facilities are outside of their home, whereas, ice freezings on the interior walls during the harsh Tajikistan winters. They have no money for meat, lucky to have enough flour and vegetables to feed the family each week, as opposed to Harriet and her family who pour out full glasses of milk and throw away tons of uneaten food. Nargis risks having to see her ex-husband, who painfully attacked and stabbed her with scissors prior to her leaving him, about once a week to go visit her youngest son. Harriet has her children with her, but typically wants nothing to do with their day-to-day care.
Harriet’s POV in the novel is written in journal form, which slowly and increasingly reveals her depression about living in Tajikistan, her longing to be home in England and her worsening depression over the changes in her marriage and the sense of having no purpose. Meanwhile, despite her poverty, missing her youngest child and her shaming from having left her husband – Nargis carries on. Nargis manages to purchase a shop of her own to sell grocery-type goods, only to have most of her profit stolen by her father, lives in fear of her ex-husband, but still, presses on with dreams and hopes for her and her children.
There are so many amazing things about “The Disobedient Wife,” I’m really not sure where to begin. Nargis is truly my hero. Any woman that has ever felt sorry for herself or her life should read this novel. Nargis has endured so much heartache and both emotional and physical pain, yet she selflessly cares for others while also trying to make her own dreams come true. She refused to worry about the opinions of others regarding her leaving her crappy ex-husband, and even though she had to leave her youngest behind in order to save the lives of her other two children, she knew he would be cared for by his grandparents. She actually made me think of my grandmother a great deal, who did not grow up in such a harsh and repressed place, faced scrutiny in the 1930’s by asking for a divorce from her own useless and abusive husband – a practice that was unheard of in the tiny North Carolina town in which she lived.
Harriet had a great deal of inner beauty, strength and love, even in the beginning when she is still rather indifferent to Nargis as a person. Unfortunately, as years had passed and she had been moved from strange place to strange place with her distant and unaffectionate husband, she began to lose sight of who she was as a person. As the novel progresses, Harriet learns that Nargis is the one and only person that she can count on and rely on, especially compared to the other ex-pat wives that she had befriended. Slowly but surely, Harriet learns to see Nargis as a friend rather than an employee and secretly tries to help Nargis anyway she can, whether monetarily, with time-off or just support when Nargis needed it.
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*I received a copy of this incredible novel in exchange for an honest review.