A Respectable Woman
Nominated | Book Awards 2020 | Creative Writing in English (Fiction & Poetry)
A Respectable Woman
‘It took my mother, Khonuo, exactly forty-five years before she could bring herself to talk about the war.’
These powerful words introduce the reader to Easterine Kire’s stunning new novel, A Respectable Woman. In Nagaland, the decisive Battle of Kohima has been fought and won by the Allies and people in and around Kohima are trying hard to come to terms with the devastation, the loss of home and property and the deaths of their loved ones. Forty years after the event, Khonuo recreates this moment, stitching together her memories, bit by painful bit, for her young daughter.
As memory passes from mother to daughter, the narrative glides seamlessly into the present, a moment in which Nagaland, much transformed, confronts different realities and challenges. Using storytelling traditions so typical of her region, Kire leads the reader gently into a world where history and memory meld — where, through this blurring, a young woman comes to understand the legacy of her parents and her land.
Easterine Kire is a writer, poet and translator. She is Nagaland’s first novelist in the English language. Her book, When the River Sleeps (Zubaan, 2014), won the 2015 Hindu Prize for Fiction. She is also the author of A Naga Village Remembered (2003), A Terrible Matriarchy (Zubaan, 2007), Mari (2010), Life on Hold (2011), Bitter Wormwood (Zubaan, 2011), the Sahitya Akademi-honoured Son of the Thundercloud (2016), Don’t Run, My Love (2017) and The Rain-Maiden and the Bear-Man (forthcoming 2019). She lives in Norway.
“Kire delicately mixes live traditions with new standards.” — Luis A. Gomez, National Herald “Hauntingly beautiful and lyrical, Easterine Kire’s prose is… [an] example of her effortless hold over words and stories.” — Swati Daftuar, The Hindu “… one of the most prominent literary voices of the Northeast.”
— The Telegraph
With A Respectable Woman, one more chink has been made in English literature from the North East. Particularly all that I have read to understand insurgency movements by indigenous groups has been written mostly by male journalists and authors. Kire, with her rich body of work carrying into her latest novel, helps fill the vast lacunae of indigenous feminist writing on my, and any, bookshelf.
A Respectable Woman redefines the nuances of respectability for women, in women, and by women, and is successful in making the silenced history heard.
Easterine Kire’s book effortlessly captures the socio-cultural and historical landscape of Naga society and rigidity surrounding the definition of womanhood… As Kire says, memories are the repositories of our past and our elders the carriers of these memories. She writes in the epilogue – “The present decade possibly offers the last opportunity to record the life of Kohima in the post-war years from its survivors’ memories.” The book could well inspire more writers to preserve such stories before memories die with the old. Written in an effortlessly simple style, A Respectable Woman is a masterpiece of Northeast Indian fiction.
– The Wire
Easterine Kire’s A Respectable Woman is a welcome addition to the canon of war fiction written by women. Poet-author Kire is the first Naga novelist to write in English. Her new novel sensitively gauges the psychological impact of war on a people and meticulously recreates life in the post-WWII years in Nagaland, following the victory of the Allies in the Battle of Kohima. The narrative, divided into two sections, unravels through the memories of Azuo, who was a child when the Japanese invaded Kohima in 1944, and traces the trajectory of her daughter Kevinuo’s life in a changed Nagaland.
– The Hindu Business Line