Bapsi Sidhwa Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bapsi Sidhwa 1938-

(Also rendered as Bapsy Sidhwa) Pakistani-born American novelist.

The following entry presents an overview of Sidhwa's career through 2000.

Sidhwa is widely recognized as one of the most prominent Pakistani-Anglophone novelists writing today. She was raised in the Parsi community, a religious and ethnic minority in Pakistan. Critics regard Sidhwa as a feminist postcolonial Asian author whose novels—including The Crow Eaters (1978), The Bride (1981), and Ice-Candy-Man (1988; republished as Cracking India 1991)—provide a unique perspective on Indian and Pakistani history, politics, and culture. Her characters, often women, are caught up in the historical events surrounding the geographical and social division—or “Partition”—of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the subsequent development of Pakistan as an independent nation. Her recurring themes include human relationships and betrayals, the coming of age and its attendant disillusionments, immigration, and cultural hybridity, as well as social and political upheavals. Sidhwa skillfully links gender to community, nationality, religion, and class, demonstrating the ways in which these various aspects of cultural identity and social structure do not merely affect or reflect one another, but instead are inextricably intertwined. Since moving to the United States and becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Sidhwa has written An American Brat (1993), which describes the Americanization of a young Parsi woman.

Biographical Information

Sidhwa was born on August 11, 1938, in Karachi, Pakistan, then part of India. Her family belongs to the Parsi ethnic community which practices the Zoroastrian religion. Sidhwa received a bachelor's degree from Kinnaird College for Women in 1956. After her first husband died, she married Noshir R. Sidhwa, a businessman, in 1963, with whom she has three children. In 1975 Sidhwa served as Pakistan's delegate to the Asian Women's Congress. She immigrated to the United States in 1983, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1993. Since moving to the United States, Sidhwa has taught, lectured, and presented workshops in creative writing at several colleges and universities, including Columbia University, St. Thomas University, the University of Houston, and Mount Holyoke College in Amherst, Massachusetts. She held a Bunting fellowship at Radcliffe/Harvard in 1986 and was a visiting scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy, in 1991. Sidhwa also served on the advisory committee on women's development for former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In 1991 she was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest national honor in the arts. She has also received a variety of grants and awards for her fiction, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1987, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year award for Cracking India in 1991, and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest award in 1993.

Major Works

Sidhwa's first three novels focus on Parsi families and the Parsi community in the city of Lahore and outlying areas that were incorporated into the newly formed nation of Pakistan. The Crow Eaters—written after The Bride, but published first—draws its title from an Indian proverb which refers to those who talk too much as people who have eaten crows. The story takes place over the first half of the twentieth century, and concerns the fortunes of a Parsi man, Faredoon “Freddy” Junglewalla. After moving from a small village in central India to the city of Lahore, Freddy gains financial success through a variety of questionable money-making schemes, such as arson and insurance fraud. Meanwhile, his strong-willed mother-in-law, Jerbanoo, makes his life increasingly difficult. The Crow Eaters, while addressing serious cultural and historical issues, is written in a humorous, farcical style that lampoons elements of Parsi culture. The Bride details the events of the Partition through the story of Qasim, a Kohistani tribesman,...

(The entire section is 1,291 words.)