Author: Gaiutra Bahadur
Title: Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, 2014, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/coolie-woman-gaiutra-bahadur/1114940235?ean=9780226034423
Formats: Hardcover, Nook
Genre: Caribbean, East Indian history, genealogy
**Fascinating note: Gaiutra Bahadur is of Guyanese heritage. She is a graduate of Yale and Columbia University. Her exploration of her family matriarch and heritage lead her to the origin of Coolie women.
Conversations with author: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipPykX1t1QI,
Synopsis: The author, Gaiutra Bahadur embarks upon a journey into her past and present. She begins the story with the family’s departure from Guyana to America. Like many new emigrants, the family experiences alienation and isolation. But, the author permits the reader to be privy to the special nature of her Guyanese family. Bahadur’s family is Caribbean and East Indian. The family intermix includes Indian and Caribbean customs, culture, and language. This enigmatic blend makes it hard for the author and her family to fully assimilate into the mainstream of America. Often, the family is mistaken for being East Indian. Dangers presented by prejudices plague the family in America. But, the family is steadfast. As readers, we learn of the author’s father and his devotion to sustaining his family’s ties to their Guyanese homeland. Father and daughter return home for a visit as part of a graduation gift. But, the author takes the reader further. Bahadur journeys to India. She goes there to find the heritage of her lost matriarch. The Coolie Woman of her family fled her homeland to work as an indentured servant. The author learns of the indentured service and plight of all Coolie Women. The pain and anguish of betrayal, rape, neglect, and abuse plague the Coolie Women. It is the odyssey of indentured service that the author discovers. In the process, Bahadur finds a synonym for the term Coolie Woman. The term she embraces is ‘Woman of Courage.’
Critique: This work is an unusual one. The author starts to tell an individual story. She speaks of her family’s struggle to find a place in two worlds. But, the story splits from this original stance. Bahadur embraces the dualism in her life. The Caribbean and the East Indian are ‘one’ for the author. Yet, there is the matriarch who fled the homeland to come to Guyana. Was she at peace with her own choice? How did she come to flee from her family and homeland in search of a new land? How did other Coolie Women come to grips with their choices? Were they manipulated, driven, raped, assaulted, and abandoned? The author faces these truths in the journey to find the origin of the Coolie Woman. In turn, we must face the never ending legacy of the Atlantic/Pacific slave trade….again. This work should be required reading in British Empire, Caribbean, and East Indian studies.