Roop is a village girl in Punjab, India, in 1937. The coming partition between India and Pakistan is going to change the world she lives in forever, but she has more immediate concerns. Her mother is dead and her father deep in debt, so it is with elation that she learns she is to become the second wife of a wealthy Sikh landowner, Sardarji, twenty-five years her senior. Sardarji's first wife, Satya, is forty-two years old and has failed to bear him any children. Roop initially believes that Satys will treat her as a sister, but their relationship becomes far more complicated and ominous as they begin to struggle for control over the children to be born and for the affections of their husband.
The dramatic and brutal story behind the 1947 partition of India, as played out in the region of Punjab, is the compelling backdrop for this stunning first novel that entwines the fate of three remarkable characters: Sardarji, a wealthy Sikh landowner whose heart is in India, but whose head is in England; Satya, his constantly scheming, feisty wife who lives for her husband but cannot give him children; and Roop, Sardarji's second, much younger wife, married for the express purpose of providing the family with an heir. Intensely atmospheric, the novel contains lyrical descriptions of daily life in a village with dusty fields of maize and clusters of homes; the cinnamon, anise and fennel smell of Satya's kitchen; Sardarji's Oxfordian attire and his spindly-legged English furniture. Baldwin, who grew up in India, skillfully creates an exotic milieu where women are sheltered from the outside world and struggle for influence over their families. As headstrong Satya, more involved in her husband's affairs than most of her peers, and demure Roop, trained to exercise traditional feminine wiles, battle for Sardarji's favor and the children Roop soon produces, Sardarji is increasingly distracted by the furor over independence and the future of the Indian state. Baldwin achieves an artistic triumph on two levels, capturing the churning political and religious history of modern India and Pakistan as she explores memorable transformations: of Satya, from a dominating force in her family to a lonely outsider; of Sardarji, from an idealistic, ambitious engineer to a hardened, more realistic civil servant; and finally, of Roop, from an arrogant, self-centered daughter to a selfless wife and mother who becomes the backbone of her family. 6-city author tour; simultaneous publication in the U.K. and Canada; rights sold in Germany, Italy, France. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.