Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. 1989. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf-Random House, 2003. Print.
Shabanu, a Pakistani girl on the cusp of womanhood, and her family are preparing for her older sister Phulan’s upcoming marriage. Shabanu struggles with the kind of obedience and womanly work that will be expected of her once she too is married. The wrath of an embarrassed landowner tragically alters the plans for Phulan’s future. In order to calm the turmoil, Shabanu is pledged in marriage to the landowner’s powerful, much older brother. Shabanu is faced with the choice between the wellbeing of her family and her own happiness.
The Cholistan desert of modern-day Pakistan
Point of View:
1st person (Shabanu)
Gender roles, duty to family, coming of age, obedience, inner strength
The novel is rich with description, painting a lively picture of desert life. There is a glossary of Pakistani terms included, as well as a helpful map of the area and a pronunciation guide of the names of characters and their relationships to each other. The book won the 1990 Newbery Honor Medal and several other honors. It is a well-written book with a gradual plot that explodes into a difficult conflict for a main character that the reader has grown to know.
The author is a journalist who spent time living and researching among the camel-herding people of the Cholistan desert. The main character, Shabanu, is actually based on a girl that Staples met there. Pakistani vocabulary is integrated into the text. Descriptions of culture and religion give the reader an insider’s view of life in this part of the world. Arranged marriage is handled sensitively and neutrally, though it is likely foreign and confusing for much of the book’s readership.
This book is appropriate for middle school readers, though older readers may also find value in it as a look into another culture. Because the novel focuses on the life of a young woman, boys may be less interested, but the book does not seem alienating toward males. There is a lot of setting and character development at the beginning of the book, which may frustrate readers used to action-filled plots.
I was happy that this book began with a pronunciation guide for names and a map of the area so that I could visualize and correctly say the character names in my head. I did not realize that there was a glossary of terms though until I had finished the book because it was at the end. As a reader then, I had to accept a level of ambiguity for words that I could not decipher much more than their category from the context. For example, I figured that chapati was some kind of food and the chadr was a Muslim veil, but I couldn’t guess what the food was or picture how much the veil covered. I spent much of the book waiting for some kind of horror of arranged marriage to be exposed and for the sisters to be more negative about it. When Shabanu’s bad luck is revealed, it is presented as a solution, although her family is very aware that it probably isn’t ideal but they aren’t sure what else to do. Though I expected such a conflict, I was surprised at the neutrality and humanity with which it was handled. I left the book feeling curious about what would happen next to Shabanu.