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Dramatic,
Interesting,
Insightful

13 reviews

Sister of My Heart : A Novel
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Published: 2000-01-18
Paperback : 322 pages
137 members reading this now
42 clubs reading this now
17 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 11 of 13 members
From the award-winning author of Mistress of Spices, the bestselling novel about the extraordinary bond between two women, and the family secrets and romantic jealousies that threaten to tear them apart.

Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family of distinction. Her cousin ...
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Introduction

From the award-winning author of Mistress of Spices, the bestselling novel about the extraordinary bond between two women, and the family secrets and romantic jealousies that threaten to tear them apart.

Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family of distinction. Her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of that same family. Sudha is startlingly beautiful; Anju is not. Despite those differences, since the day on which the two girls were born, the same day their fathers died--mysteriously and violently--Sudha and Anju have been sisters of the heart. Bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend, the two girls grow into womanhood as if their fates as well as their hearts were merged.

But, when Sudha learns a dark family secret, that connection is shattered. For the first time in their lives, the girls know what it is to feel suspicion and distrust. Urged into arranged marriages, Sudha and Anju's lives take opposite turns. Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household. Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. When tragedy strikes each of them, however, they discover that despite distance and marriage, they have only each other to turn to.

Set in the two worlds of San Francisco and India, this exceptionally moving novel tells a story at once familiar and exotic, seducing readers from the first page with the lush prose we have come to expect from Divakaruni. Sister of My Heart is a novel destined to become as widely beloved as it is acclaimed.

Editorial Review

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made an indelible impression on the literary world with her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, a magical tale of love and herbs. Sister of My Heart is less reliant on enchantment but no less enchanting as it tells the tale of two cousins born on the same day, their premature births brought on by a mysterious occurrence that claims the lives of both their fathers. Sudha is beautiful, Anju is not; yet the girls love each other as sisters, the bond between them so strong it seems nothing can break it. When both are pushed into arranged marriages, however, each discovers a devastating secret that changes their relationship forever.

Sister of My Heart spans many years and zigzags between India and America as the cousins first grow apart and then eventually reunite. Divakaruni invests this domestic drama with poetry as she traces her heroines' lives from infancy to motherhood, but it is Sudha and Anju who give the story its backbone. Anju might speak for both when she says, "In spite of all my insecurities, in spite of the oceans that'll be between us soon and the men that are between us already, I can never stop loving Sudha. It's my habit, and it's my fate." Book lovers may well discover that reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is habit-forming as well. --Margaret Prior

Excerpt

One: Sudha

They say in the old tales that the first night after a child is born, the Bidhata Purush comes down to earth himself to decide what its fortune is to be. That is why they bathe babies in sandalwood water and wrap them in soft red malmal, color of luck. That is why they leave sweetmeats by the cradle. Silver-leafed sandesh, dark pantuas floating in golden syrup, jilipis orange as the heart of a fire, glazed with honey-sugar. If the child is especially lucky, in the morning it will all be gone. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Questions from Publisher's Reading Guide:

1. What kind of relationship is there between the older generation in India, who live in a world full of mystical tales and magical occurrences, and Anju and Sudha's generation, which is more drawn to Western ideals? Why are both cousins, especially Anju, skeptical of their own culture and interested in the west, particularly America? How do they incorporate each world into their lives?

2. How are Sudha and Anju different, and how are they similar? Despite their differences, what continues to keep their relationship strong?

3. The mothers tell the girls that loving someone too much is dangerous. What are they trying to achieve with this warning?

4. What does the ruby symbolize? What is the significance of Anju and Sudha being so "unlucky" in the circumstances under which they were born? Why was it significant for Sudha to know the truth about her past and not be able to tell Anju?

5. There is often a great disparity between what is the proper thing to do and what is the fun, exciting thing to do. How does this theme play itself out in the novel?

6. Why does Anju's mother welcome Sudha and her mother into the family even though she knows the truth about Sudha's father? In contrast, why is Sudha's mother so harsh and seemingly ungrateful? Do she and her daughter belong in the house?

7. The mothers often tell stories and gossip. What role do these stories play in their livesand in the lives of Sudha and Anju?

8. According to Bidhata Purush's predictions, Anju is supposed to be brave and clever, fight injustice, marry a fine man and travel the world, while Sudha is supposed to have a life of sorrow. Do the girls live up to these predictions? If not, how else would you characterize each?

9. How did having a man enter each of their lives affect the girls' friendship? Would the friendship have evolved differently had they not married? Are men portrayed positively or negatively in this book?

10. Why is there jealousy between the two cousins? Is it inevitable despite their mutual love? Do they ever successfully rise above it?

11. How does Anju change after she comes to America? Would she have been as independent and assertive if she had stayed in India?

12. Sudha defies traditional Indian culture by leaving her husband and raising her child on her own. How do her actions affect her deep connection to Indian culture? How does the author portray Sudha's decision?

13. The keeping of secrets and the telling of lies play a huge part in the novel. Why are so many secrets kept? Is it better to keep some secrets and to tell some lies or to always share the truth?

14. Discuss your reaction to finding out Singhji's identity. Was Sudha's response reasonable?

15. Should Sudha have gone with Ashok? Throughout the novel, does Sudha give up too much for Anju? Are sacrifices required of a true friend?

16. For Discussion: Divakaruni's Novels and Stories

What do the characters in Divakaruni's novels and stories lose and gain as they become more "American"?

17. In the story "Affair," Abha says, "It's not wrong to be happy, is it? To want more out of life than fulfilling duties you took on before you knew what they truly meant?" How is this idea further developed in The Mistress of Spices? In Sister of My Heart?

18. In Divakaruni's stories, women are wives and mothers, but the men are portrayed primarily as husbands, not fathers. How are the men's roles in the novels similar to or different from those in the stories?

19. How does the Indian immigrant experience compare to that of other immigrants--Spanish, Italian, Chinese?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Sister of My Heart"by scotlass66 (see profile) 12/18/15

Beautifully written, this story of two young girls and their paths into womanhood, takes the reader to India of the 1980s. There are secrets and lies, stories and gossip, sadness and separation, but their... (read more)

 
by Julz721 (see profile) 07/13/14

 
  "sister of my heart"by suemoros (see profile) 08/23/12

An interesting book, lots to talk about in book club.;

 
  "Sister of my Heart"by DebbiJ (see profile) 08/23/12

I really enjoyed the book, learned a lot about the Indian culture. There were times I was confused and had to go back to the beginning to figure out who was who. At times, the book moves slowly. Over... (read more)

 
  "Much to discuss"by awr115 (see profile) 06/23/12

Our book club really liked this selection. There is much to discuss on the topics of friendship, family loyalty, feminism, cultural differences/similarities...The author weaves twists into the book so... (read more)

 
  "Sister of my heart"by Apinklady (see profile) 06/12/12

The book was very well written. I found it interesting based in India. I didn't think it was great, but good,

 
  "Sister of My Heart"by clstarr (see profile) 06/11/12

Sweet book but certainly not my favorite. Informative about traditional Indian marriages I found interesting. But a few things in book where unconvincing. Predictable.

 
  "Sister of my Heart"by Hanknlori (see profile) 05/02/12

An engaging book, some mystery, great character development and story.

 
  "Beautiful Story"by alsgal (see profile) 02/15/12

So well written! I loved the attention paid to every detail. What an amazing history of a friendship - sisterhood. Because come on don't we all have that one friend who should have been our sister?

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