Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226034423 Published October 2013 For sale in North and South America only
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 9780226211381 Published August 2014 For sale in North and South America only
E-book $18.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226043388 Published November 2013 For sale in North and South America only

Coolie Woman

The Odyssey of Indenture

Gaiutra Bahadur

Gaiutra Bahadur

312 pages | 34 halftones | 6.5 x 9.2 | © 2013
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226034423 Published October 2013 For sale in North and South America only
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 9780226211381 Published August 2014 For sale in North and South America only
E-book $18.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226043388 Published November 2013 For sale in North and South America only
In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a “coolie”—the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many coolies, disappeared into history. In Coolie Woman—shortlisted for the 2014 Orwell Prize—her great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother’s story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on their complex lives.

Shunned by society, and sometimes in mortal danger, many coolie women were either runaways, widows, or outcasts. Many of them left husbands and families behind to migrate alone in epic sea voyages—traumatic “middle passages”—only to face a life of hard labor, dismal living conditions, and, especially, sexual exploitation. As Bahadur explains, however, it is precisely their sexuality that makes coolie women stand out as figures in history. Greatly outnumbered by men, they were able to use sex with their overseers to gain various advantages, an act that often incited fatal retaliations from coolie men and sometimes larger uprisings of laborers against their overlords. Complex and unpredictable, sex was nevertheless a powerful tool.

Examining this and many other facets of these remarkable women’s lives, Coolie Woman is a meditation on survival, a gripping story of a double diaspora—from India to the West Indies in one century, Guyana to the United States in the next—that is at once a search for one’s roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity. 
Junot Díaz, author of This Is How You Lose Her
“An astonishing document—both a historical rescue mission and a profound meditation on family and womanhood, Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman spans continents and centuries, the private and the national, to bring to light the extraordinary lives of the author’s great-grandmother and the other quarter of a million coolie women that came to the New World as indentured laborers. Bahadur’s meticulous research and tireless perseverance have restored an important chapter in our histories—outstanding work.”
Library Journal
“Bahadur has written a masterly chronicle of the lives of ‘coolie women’ (and also ‘coolie men’). . . . . The stories are both poignant and horrific: abuse, promiscuity, rape, mutilation, cuckoldry, and murder abound (according to Bahadur, this legacy still survives in Guyana), owing to the shortage of women and the double struggle between ‘men and women, colonizer and colonized.’ . . . This spellbinding account of a story that needed to be told is highly recommended.”
India Ink, New York Times
“Deeply personal yet assiduously researched. From the treacherous sea voyage to the colonial outpost of British Guiana to the sexual privileges conferred on indentured women as the scarcer sex, Bahadur reconstructs the ‘coolie’ woman’s fate in astonishing detail.”
Guardian
Coolie Woman is a genealogical page-turner interwoven with a compelling, radical history of empire told from the perspective of indentured women—or ‘coolies,’ as they were known by the British. The collective voice of the jehaji behen (ship sisters) has been barely audible across the centuries, until now. . . . Bahadur grants us rare imaginative access to the odyssey through the experience of women’s stories she finds in the archives.”
Times Literary Supplement
“In reconstructing the lives of the indentured and, in particular, the experience of her great­grandmother, Gaiutra Bahadur has produced an intricate, thoroughly researched, and beautifully written book that evokes the experience of emigrant Indians and their descendants.”
Women's Review of Books
“A moving, foundational book, investigating the experience of indentured Indian women in the Caribbean. It is solidly researched and as such it reveals the difficulty of understanding the human lives concealed within documents. Bahadur delicately reconstructs these women’s lives, seen only through a glass darkly, piecing them together with respect and even admiration.”
Vashna Jagarnath | The Con
“This is a story of how colonialism made the modern world, and of how some of the women who laboured in foreign lands worked to build the wealth that still sparkles in the enclaves of opulence and power from London to La Lucia. This is a complex story about our complex past that offers little to the often crude nationalisms that, from Guiana to Fiji and South Africa, not to mention India, are emerging in response to our inability to really decolonise our societies. Those who wish to find romantic myths in the past to power deeply conservative ideas about the present, and the role of women in an imagined future, will find little to work with here. What this book does show, and what history always shows when it’s examined properly, is that the past was just as complex and messy as the present. But it also shows that in that messy complexity there is, then as now, resilience, innovation, renewal and courage.”
The Writer
“With a poignant narrative that is part biography, part history, and part memoir, Bahadur gives voice to the voiceless.”
Shivanee Ramlochan | Trinidad & Tobago Guardian
Coolie Woman is about indenture, yes. It’s also a product of unflinching inquiry into community, diaspora, displacement, New World immigration, the body politic, and the persistent legacy of colonialism. Reading it is immersive, dense, and challenging in the best way: it marks a series of redefinitions, broadening the basin of one’s assumptions governing indenture. It illuminates the tableaux of Indian women’s stories, blowing heaped decades of dust from their surfaces. Bahadur handles this history without compromise, imbuing it with prismatic context, deepening the true stories that can be told about the journeys that so many women undertook.”
Salil Tripathi | Independent
“In Coolie Woman, [Bahadur] combines her journalistic eye for detail and storytelling gifts with probing questions, relentlessly pursuing leads to create a haunting portrait of the life of a subaltern. ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ the theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak had asked rhetorically. Yes, she can. Through the story of Sheojari, Bahadur shows how.”
Andrea Stuart | Literary Review
“Fascinating story, which will have resonance for millions of others who are swept up and transformed by history and have to find a new way to create ‘home.’”
Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains
“Gaiutra Bahadur’s book made me realize how the experience of a whole generation of women like her great-grandmother profoundly challenges the various stereotypes we have. This is a highly original combination of careful scholarship and well-told personal journey.”
Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire
“Gaiutra Bahadur’s pathbreaking book carefully excavates an imperial history of violence and uprooting. But this is no simple account of victimhood. It shows, with understated literary power, the bitterly paradoxical nature of colonial modernity: the unbearable dialectic between enslavement and liberation that many unsung millions underwent in their private lives.”
Teju Cole, author of Open City
“With the exhilarating meticulousness of a period film, Coolie Woman recreates a vanished world and casts a personal searchlight on the saga of indenture. Gaiutra Bahadur rescues her great-grandmother Sujaria and other coolie women from the archives by means of a narrative that is both scholarly and soulful. In detailing the bitter journeys of her forebears, in making their astonishing experiences real and sympathetic, and in registering the complexities of their lives—not least the extent to which they made choices where one might have expected helplessness—Bahadur honors their memories and shows herself their worthy descendant.”
Richard Drayton, King's College London
“Gaiutra Bahadur braids a dazzling rope from the history of Indian migration to the Caribbean, the experience of Indians in Guyana and of Indo-Guyanese immigrants in the United States, and the joy and pain of ‘return’ to India. Deeply researched, elegantly written, Coolie Woman is a major contribution to the literature of diaspora.” 
Neel Mukherjee, author of A Life Apart
“An impassioned, meticulously researched, and gripping book that shines a fierce light on a dark, unexplored corner of the history of colonialism and slavery, Coolie Woman intertwines the personal and the historical to sensational effect. It is also a uniquely affecting piece of work.”
John Agard, author of Half-Caste
“Every so often a history book comes along that grips you into a cascade of compelling narrative. The writer excavates new ore from old seams. Coolie Woman is such a book, destined for a unique place in the multi-mirror of Caribbean culture.”
Contents

Epigraph

Acknowledgements

List of Illustrations

Preface: The C-Word

PART ONE. EMBARKING

1. The Magician’s Box

2 Ancestral Memory

PART TWO. EXPLORING

3. The Women’s Quarters

4. Into Dark Waters

5. Her Middle Passage

6. A New World

7. Beautiful Woman Without a Nose

8. Gone But Not Forgotten

PART THREE. RETURNING

9. The Dream of Return

10. Every Ancestor

11. Surviving History

Notes

Bibliography

Index

For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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