Day 912: Literary Wives! The Disobedient Wife

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

My Review

Cover for The Disobedient WifeA distinctive characteristic of The Disobedient Wife is its sense of place in an unusual setting, Tajikistan. The novel contrasts the lives of two women, Nargis, a nanny and maid who is struggling to support her family, and Harriet, her employer.

The novel begins during a bitterly cold winter, and Milisic-Stanley effectively conveys how difficult life is for the majority of Tajiks. Harriet, in contrast, lives a life of luxury as the wife of a foreign diplomat. At first, she is not a very sympathetic character, as opposed to Nargil. The novel makes it clear that Harriet is a trophy wife who angled to take her husband Henri from his previous wife.

Nargil, on the other hand, is separated from her second husband. She loved her first husband, who died, but was rushed into her second marriage by her parents. Her second husband has proved abusive to her and her son, so Nargil has left him, at the expense of leaving her youngest son Faisullo with her husband’s family. She has no legal right to her son if her husband doesn’t grant it.

By contrast to Nargil’s, Harriet’s life is one of idleness and boredom. Her husband is almost constantly working, frequently away traveling, and she has little purpose to her life.

The writing style of this novel was so florid at first that it bothered me. However, I quickly got involved in the women’s stories and in the details of life in Tajikistan, particularly in Nargil’s life.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Literary Wives logoAlthough the marriages are very different, I felt they were both stereotypical, and a bit of a weakness in the novel. For one thing, we see very little of any positive interactions between the wives and husbands. As Nargil is separated from Poulod, we don’t see day-to-day interactions but understand he was an abuser. The novel concentrates more on the difficulties Nargil faces with his continuing presence in her life and her lack of rights.

Henri expects Harriet to be a proper hostess to his guests. Otherwise, he doesn’t spend much time with her. He patronizes her and leaves her with the children most of the time. It’s difficult to imagine why they ever got married.

I guess the message we’re supposed to get about this topic is that both women have the courage to leave their marriages, no matter how different.

Related Posts

The Happy Marriage

The World’s Wife

A Thousand Splendid Suns

22 thoughts on “Day 912: Literary Wives! The Disobedient Wife

  1. ForkInPage June 6, 2016 / 9:13 am

    I liked your review – very much because you reviewed the book away from the stereotypes that surround “muslim” communities.

    In the other reviews that I’ve read – allot has been chalked up to “traditional Muslim ways.”
    Why let that serve as an excuse. Or at minimum; acknowledge that the traditions being applied here are exactly what Islam was founded to diminish. Muslims were the first to give women the right to own property. The first to write divorce laws – at the time of marriage the husband signs a prenup that he will give his wife XX amount of dollars for her personal well being should there be a divorce. The woman is allowed to collect anytime during the marriage..

    I’ll stop now. I feel like I’m venting in the wrong blog. Sorry to go off on a tangent but I appreciate you holding everyone (all marriages/people) to same standards of humanity.


    • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 9:19 am

      Thanks very much! You obviously know a lot about it.

  2. Naomi June 6, 2016 / 9:44 am

    Your review makes me wonder why there were so few happy marriages in the book to contrast with the unhappy ones. Were there *any* happy expat wives? Maybe the woman with the abuse shelter pamphlet.
    Nargis’s first marriage was happy which made me feel better about her story in one way, but worse in another. And certainly their futures are hopeful.
    I did also wonder why Harriet married Henri to begin with but, unfortunately, making that kind of mistake is probably pretty common.

    • Emily J. June 6, 2016 / 10:30 am

      What a good point. I think all of the expat wives were miserable in some way or another. I also noticed that even Nargis’s parents’ marriage was not necessarily happy. There was that episode with her father and brother stealing all her money to drink, and her mother defended some of the “traditional” ideas about marriage and men’s dominance.

      • Naomi June 6, 2016 / 10:55 am

        That’s what I thought, too. I think her parents’ marriage was not too bad compared to some others, but it certainly couldn’t have been ‘happy’.
        It also made me wonder where the ‘good’ men are coming from? Her first husband, and also the taxi driver (I forget his name). I would like to know more about their backgrounds compared to Poulod’s.

      • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:17 am

        Just another point about the ex-pats. I don’t think people realize how lonely that type of job can be. I remember being interested in it in the 80’s and having a friend whose parents were in the field tell me that you weren’t allowed to associate with the locals, that it was very lonely.

        On the parents, etc., well, of course we have the whole issue of a life where there is not much hope. And it is true that in areas where there is not much hope, there’s usually a lot of drinking.

      • Naomi June 6, 2016 / 11:21 am

        I can imagine it would be really lonely, but of course, I haven’t actually experienced it. But if people can feel lonely in their own communities, it must be so much worse when they are away from everything and everyone they know!

      • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:22 am

        How true! And of course, if when you’re traveling you are cut off from everything that traveling is about, which she is until she gets more involved with Nargis, then that makes it worse.

      • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:13 am

        Well, we only saw a few of the expats. I think I had the impression that those who were there for humanitarian purposes might have been happier, but they weren’t the ones that Harriet hung out with. Certainly, a major theme of feminist literature is women having to overcome what they’re taught about men’s and women’s places. I just read a book by Winifred Holtby that was about that subject.

  3. whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 9:54 am

    I think I was just trying to say I would have liked to see more give and take. I don’t think most marriages are all bad or all good, and it would have felt more realistic if we could see some tender moments between Harriet and Henri or some more nuanced moments between Nargis and her husband (although it doesn’t sound like there were any). Nargis was just shoved into her marriage, but Harriet had to have some reason to be attracted to Henri beyond his being a rich man. Of course, I have no idea about the situation in Tajikistan, but most diplomatic spouses are able to create a social life, at least, by getting to know the other diplomatic spouses. Perhaps that’s how she met the two women she was friends with (although I’m thinking not), but it doesn’t really show her going to parties and other ceremonies that she almost certainly would have had to attend. That life isn’t for everyone anyhow, but it seems as if it would have been more for her than what she was doing, which was virtually nothing.

    • Naomi June 6, 2016 / 11:15 am

      I think that the fact that the two friends she did have were just as bad as she was, made her feel even worse about her situation. She was headed into a dangerous place before she decided to take some interest in Nargis’s life, which probably saved her.
      I agree that Harriet and Henri’s marriage is a bit of a mystery in the first place. From what I took from the book, she seemed to have gotten caught up in the excitement of traveling around to different countries. Then ended up extremely disappointed with the reality of it. Which made me wonder were there any couples there that were happy? We didn’t get to see much of that side of things, though.

      • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:19 am

        Sure, that would be true.

        But do you think her excitement about traveling around was why drew her to Henri? I had the impression that she felt that she could only succeed by marrying someone well off, which I thought was a very old-fashioned point of view but one a few people still have. The travel issue seemed to come second. But maybe I’m misremembering. Certainly she thought her life was going to be a lot more glamorous than it turned out to be.

      • Naomi June 6, 2016 / 11:23 am

        And so we come back to the expectations we already have about marriages when we come into them. Maybe she had in her head that money=glamour and excitement.

      • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:29 am

        Yes, that’s probably right.

  4. Emily J. June 6, 2016 / 10:32 am

    It sounds like you didn’t like this one as much as I did. I had a hard time getting into the story in the first chapter or two, but after that, I couldn’t put it down. I also noticed some weakness in writing, like the jumping around through time without much transition. However, I kept thinking that I was impressed at the skill of the author, as it is skill I do not possess!

    • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:14 am

      I liked it, but I thought it could have done more to on several different levels. I guess I give it a C. 😉

    • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:21 am

      Emily, are you going to post a review today?

    • whatmeread June 6, 2016 / 11:30 am

      Sorry, I kept going to your page and seeing your Friday Fiction topic. I just remember that you went from having links to several topics on your front page instead of the most recent article.

  5. Lynn Gerrard June 6, 2016 / 4:56 pm

    I would agree with your last sentence, Kay, though I could appreciate the fact that Harriet was able to draw strength to do that from Nargis. Beyond the aspect of the marriages presented, I loved their relationship and the way it developed, so gradually and subtly.

    • whatmeread June 7, 2016 / 7:31 am

      Yes, I think that depiction was better than the depiction of their marriages.

  6. Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel June 6, 2016 / 9:56 pm

    Great review. The book is indeed one that requires a lot of thought. Also I wish the author had taken pains to show some happy marriages too. Or maybe that would have diluted the plot??

    • whatmeread June 7, 2016 / 7:32 am

      My point wasn’t so much that I wanted her to show happy marriages as that I wanted her to show more nuance in the marriages she was depicting. How many of us have a completely horrible or a completely happy marriage? Yet she shows nothing good about any of them except Nargil’s marriage with her first husband, and that is only alluded to.

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