Crossing The Precipice
A Review of Piyali Bhattacharya's
"Good Girls Marry Doctors:
South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion"
ABOUT THIS ANTHOLOGY
“There’s a point in the life of a ‘good Asian’ when you realize that being ‘good’ is not enough. Not enough to keep others happy, and certainly not enough to be happy yourself. Good Girls Marry Doctors celebrates and affirms our very imperfect inner lives. These are the stories we need to get free.”
— Jenny Yang, Stand-up Comedian; Producer of Disoriented Comedy and The Comedy Comedy Festival
Good Girls Marry Doctors: South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion, edited by Piyali Bhattacharya, is the first anthology to examine the multiple facets of daughterhood in South Asian American families.
The voices in this volume reveal how a Good Girl is trained to seamlessly blend professional success with the maintenance and reproduction of her family’s cultural heritage. Her gratitude for her immigrant parents’ sacrifices creates intense pressure to perform and embody the role of the “perfect daughter.” Yet, the demand for such perfection can stifle desire, curb curiosity, and make it fraught for a Good Girl to construct her own identity in the face of stern parental opinion.
Of course, this is not always the case. Certain stories in this collection uncover relationships between parents and daughters that are open and supportive while also being exacting. Many of the essays, however, dig into difficult truths about what it is to be a young woman in a world of overbearing cultural expectation.
The creative nonfiction anthology, Good Girls Marry Doctors: South Asian American Daughters On Obedience And Rebellion, reveal how important South Asian American daughters are as shape-shifters of a new world. Today’s adult South Asian American daughters traverse multiple cultural worlds in the U.S. with a depth of understanding of the human spirit. “Salman Rushdie once said, ‘Migration throws everything into chaos,’” in “The Only Dates Are The Ones We Eat” by Nayomi Munaweera. This quote captures the chaos that ensues with South Asian parents confronting a new culture that contradicts their origin culture value system within themselves and in parenting their daughters. This space in-between cultures also serves as a liminal space where daughters are leaving their comfort zones to create something new with the cultural, spiritual, and emotional materials around them.
The stories cover a wide range of themes that include instilling agency and economic autonomy in South Asian girls to raising body positive children to discovering sexual identities and many more. The journey for each South Asian daughter to belong to herself is the continuous theme that threads the stories together like a string of pearls. To accept daughters in all varieties through patience and understanding, and pausing to see our daughters for who they are across generations is the community’s journey to take.
Tanzila Ahmed’s, “The Cost of Grief,” opens the anthology with a compressed story bulging with multiple life themes of death, finances, memory, and forgiveness. Ahmed traverses the painful terrain of losing her mother and recalling her complex yet loving relationship with her mother all while surveying the financial struggle her parents were in. She takes charge of where her mother left off with the family finances to get the bills and household in order. And she also vows to take care of her younger her sisters and eventually her father as well. A memorable moment where Ahmed digs into herself and stands firmly with her sisters to witness her mother’s burial, a custom usually reserved only for men, illustrates the inner strength it takes to hold onto one’s self even when life brings us to our knees.
“The Photograph Of My Parents,” written by Neelanjana Banerjee, draws us into how vulnerable children are to the emotional lives of parents as a couple and as individuals. At the heart of the story is a black and white photograph of her parents facing one another, and the potential for the life they can develop between them. Banerjee shares the painful realities of their marriage from her point of view as their daughter. The story also illustrates the hyphenated cultural existence daughters have to navigate in the U.S., sometimes on their own. She comes back to the photograph as a meditation to remind herself and all of us to take those emotional risks anyways and “not be afraid to love.”
Sona Charaipotra’s Flipping the Script, Finding The Love Of My Life While Writing The Book Of My Heart, offers a light-hearted short on marriage pressure on South Asian daughters. Charaipotra’s realization about fulfilling her own expectations versus her father’s serves as good reminder of belonging to ourselves.
In “Modern Mythologies,” Surya Kundu beautifully details the borders families draw around their daughter’s bodies to protect them and keep their sexuality in check in the U.S. Kundu uses the Hindu myth of Sita and Ram to illustrate how much Sita was restricted from stepping into the world and how she was punished when she did. Kundu draws parallels between Sita’s life and her own to illustrate how suffocating these restrictions can be for the human spirit, “I’d been walking the walks of the metaphorical fire for a while, trying to prove at each step that I was making the right choices, that I could be successful on my own and in my own ways. Walking those walks was exhausting. I was caught between conflicting ideas, the same ideas I’d been taught as a child. I’d been told to be honest but being honest about my desires just created conflict with my family. I’d been told to have ambition and pursue knowledge, but that pursuit was landing me in trouble.”
This collection of stories hits close to home for me as a South Asian daughter and as a mother. The review itself has become a place for understanding the emotional patterns of our lives. This collection of stories focuses on the much-needed gray area of our lives in family dynamics; that we stay open, non-judgmental, and compassionate towards the choices our daughters are making. It also asks us to understand the powerful position our daughters hold not only in our families but also in communities. They are the keepers of hard-earned migration stories that center them towards an inclusive society. They are the warriors that fight to recognize the fundamental civil and human rights of Americans across cultures in this current moment. And they are the trailblazers of voice and belong to one’s self for the next generation. Good Girls Marry Doctors is a celebration of these distinct and powerful voices of South Asian American daughters.
ABOUT GUEST WRITER:
Meeta Kaur is the creator and editor of Her Name Is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write About Love, Courage, and Faith, and is the managing editor of the Sikh Love Stories Project, an online story-telling that explores the inner lives of Sikh American women exploring love in revolutionary ways. Kaur has written for NPR, Hyphen Magazine, and Asian Week. She was awarded the Elizabeth George grant for fiction, the Hedgebrook Writing Residency and Returning Hedgebrook Alumni Residency for 2017. Learning to balance the writing life with motherhood, Kaur has re-connected to writing projects and literature and looks forward to more publications and teaching in the future.