In 1903 a Brahmin woman sailed from India to Guyana as a 'coolie', the name the British gave to the million indentured labourers they recruited for sugar plantations worldwide after slavery ended. The woman, who claimed no husband, was pregnant and travelling alone. A century later, her great-granddaughter embarks on a journey into the past, hoping to solve a mystery: what made her leave her country? And had she also left behind a man? Gaiutra Bahadur, an American journalist, pursues traces of her great-grandmother over three continents. She also excavates the repressed history of some quarter of a million female coolies. Disparaged as fallen, many were runaways, widows or outcasts, and many migrated alone. Coolie Woman chronicles their epic passage from Calcutta to the Caribbean, from departures akin either to kidnap or escape, through sea voyages rife with sexploitation, to new worlds where women were in short supply. When they exercised the power this gave them, some fell victim to the machete, in brutal attacks, often fatal, by men whom they spurned. Sex with overseers both empowered and imperiled other women, in equal measure.
It also precipitated uprisings, as a struggle between Indian men and their women intersected with one between coolies and their overlords
Publisher: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd
Dimensions: 216 x 138 mm
'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture is a genealogical page-turner interwoven with a compelling, radical history of empire told from the perspective of indentured women. The collective voice of the "jehaji behen" (ship sisters) has been barely audible across the centuries, until now ... Bahadur grants us rare imaginative access to the odyssey through the experience of women's stories she finds in the archives.' - The Guardian 'With Coolie Woman, Bahadur lifts the veil of anonymity. She combines her journalistic eye for detail and story-telling gifts with probing questions, relentlessly pursuing leads to create a haunting portrait of the life of a subaltern. "Can the subaltern speak?" the theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak had asked rhetorically. Yes, she can. Through the story of Sheojari, Bahadur shows how.' - Salil Tripathi, The Independent 'I thought I knew something about slavery and forced labour, having written two books on the subject. And I thought I knew something about immigration to the New World. But Gaiutra Bahadur's book made me realise how the experience of a whole generation of women like her great-grandmother profoundly challenges the various stereotypes we have. This is a highly original combination of careful scholarship and well-told personal journey.' - Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: the British Struggle to Abolish Slavery 'With the exhilarating meticulousness of a period film, Coolie Woman recreates a vanished world and casts a personal searchlight on the saga of indenture. Gaiutra Bahadur rescues her great-grandmother Sujaria and other 'coolie' women from the archives by means of a narrative that is both scholarly and soulful. In detailing the bitter journeys of her forebears, in making their astonishing experiences real and sympathetic, and in registering the complexities of their lives - not least the extent to which they made choices where one might have expected helplessness - Bahadur honours their memories and shows herself their worthy descendant.' - Teju Cole, author of Open City 'Gaiutra Bahadur braids a dazzling rope from the history of Indian migration to the Caribbean, the experience of Indians in Guyana and of Indo-Guyanese immigrants in the United States, and the joy and pain of "return" to India. Deeply researched, elegantly written, Coolie Woman is a major contribution to the literature of diaspora.' - Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, King's College London 'An astonishing document - both a historical rescue mission and a profound meditation on family and womanhood, Bahadur's Coolie Woman spans continents and centuries, the private and national, to bring to light the extraordinary lives of the author's great-grandmother and the other quarter of a million kuli women that came to the New World as indentured laborers. Bahadur's meticulous research and tireless perseverance have restored an important chapter in our histories - outstanding work.' - Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her 'Every so often a history comes along that grips you into a cascade of compelling narrative. The writer excavates new ore from old seams. Coolie Woman is such a book, destined for a unique place in the multi-mirror of Caribbean culture.' - John Agard, playwright and poet 'In her remarkable book, Gaiutra Bahadur chronicles the extraordinary but neglected saga of indentured labour that evolved when the British began to replace slavery on their sugar plantations worldwide. But the book is more than this: it is also a highly personal account that traces the history of the author's maternal line to the present day. As Bahadur clambers down the generations, she provides the reader with a meticulous and lushly detailed family memoir. ...This is a fascinating story, which will have resonance for millions of others who are swept up and transformed by history and have to find a new way to create "home".' - Andrea Stuart, Literary Review 'Gaiutra Bahadur has produced an intricate, thoroughly researched and beautifully written book that evokes the experience of emigrant Indians and their descendants.' --Times Literary Supplement