The Parcel by Anosh Irani

paperback edition, published 2017 by Scribe UK

The Parcel was written by Indo-Canadian novelist and playwright, Anosh Irani and was published in paperback form in 2017 by Scribe UK. It has picked up several award nominations including; the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize in 2017 and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature during the same year.

Content warnings: child abuse, rape, transphobia

Synopsis: Set in India’s red light district in Bombay, The Parcel is a distressing story about the life of a trans woman or a ‘hijra’ called Madhu who was formerly a sex worker but now in her forties, gets by as a beggar. Until one day, she receives a call from a prominent brothel owner called Padma who tasks her with the job of preparing the young girl Kinjal, for a life in prostitution. The story is a brutal depiction of what life is like for the many trans/intersex women and abandoned young girls who have been forced into a life of prostitution.

I love the way this book explores the themes of mother-daughter and sisterly relationships, such as the abusive but heartening bond that grows between Madhu and Kinjal. It was difficult to read about the ways in which Madhu abuses Kinjal and how the former was abused before by her gurumai, but there is also an underlying feeling of solidarity and kinship borne of the abuser’s irreparable trauma. This trauma is mostly explored through Madhu’s difficult experience as a hijra, which in India is someone who constantly has to face the duplicity of being revered for the blessings they bestow but also being reviled for their difference.

This book has a pointed political message. It opens discourse on such conversations and misogyny, gentrification and abuse of power. It’s not a read for the faint of heart but it also has tender moments, such as Madhu’s burning desire for family and the affection she shares with Gajja.

The Parcel is mostly slow-paced and linear but there are some flashbacks which I thought supplemented the character development really well. It was really hard to fault apart from the sometimes snail-like progression of the plot. Overall I thought The Parcel was a polarising book, both callous and heartfelt.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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