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!
A 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?
Although 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.