An Unrestored Woman: Stories

Shobha Rao

Flatiron Books, 2016

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

The twelve paired stories in Shobha Rao's An Unrestored Woman trace their origins to the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947, but they transcend that historical moment. A young woman in a crushingly loveless marriage seizes freedom in the only way left to her; a mother is forced to confront a chilling, unforgiveable crime she committed out of love; an ambitious servant seduces both master and mistress; a young prostitute quietly, inexorably plots revenge on the madam who holds her hostage; a husband and wife must forgive each other for the death of their child. Caught in extreme states of tension, in a world of shifting borders, of instability, Rao's characters must rely on their own wits. When Partition established Pakistan and India as sovereign states, the new boundary resulted in a colossal transfer of people, the largest peacetime migration in human history. This mass displacement echoes throughout Rao's story couplets, which range across the twentieth century, moving beyond the subcontinent to Europe and America. Told with dark humor and ravaging beauty, An Unrestored Woman unleashes a fearless new voice on the literary scene.


“With a sophisticated sense of pacing and patience, the stories build on one another by focusing on how the actions of those in power affect vulnerable women and children on both sides of the divide... Her sentences are beautiful but never lapse into sentimentality: "The water was cold, silken, and when she dipped her head under it, it passed over her scalp with the thickness and the strength of a hand";"that's what she had thought while traveling on the train: that to journey through such emptiness was to invite it inside." Though the characters are meticulously developed within each story, the collection as a whole examines how little power a person might have over his or her own destiny when confronted with war and international disputes. Stunning and relentless.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Rao’s raw and breathtaking short story collection is set against [an] epic canvas, yet her character studies are intimate. Here are soulful human beings struggling with ways of retaining their essential humanity against overwhelming odds even as they face the starkest of choices between life and death for themselves and their loved ones….Exquisite turns of phrase and editing with a fine-edged scalpel only add to an outstanding and memorable debut.”
Booklist (starred)

“Until I read these stories, I was unaware of the “Partition” in 1947, and the number of people displaced with the formation of India and Pakistan as sovereign states.  As with any conflict and migration of great numbers of people, children and women are the most vulnerable.  Shobha Rao has told the stories of these women in a manner that gripped me and made me feel their pain.  Many decisions that normally would not be made by a human, are made while in survival mode.  An excellent and moving body of work.”
Nona Camuel of CoffeeTree Books, Morehead, KY

“What an astonishing collection!  Provoking, ferocious, moving, splendid, generous and essential. I seemed to finish the book in a different world than the one in which I began it.”
Kelly Link, author of Get In Trouble

“Shobha Rao writes, with equal power, of the turmoil and tragedy of Great Events, but also the small, intimate lives of those doomed to live through them. In her vivid descriptions of other times and places, people rise above or fall beneath the wheel of history, but all have stories to tell and the wonderful Rao to tell them.  This transporting debut will linger in your mind long past the last page.” 
Karen Joy FowlerNew York Times best-selling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

“Shobha Rao is a spellbinding storyteller. With An Unrestored Woman, she lifts a handful of individuals from the wreckage of Partition and illuminates their inner lives with daring and empathy. I tore through these stories, as fearful for these characters as if I’d known them my whole life.”  
Tania James, author of The Tusk That Did the Damage


“A remarkable collection that explores the reverberations of Partition through generations, from a mapmaker’s gamble to a grandfather who cannot speak of what he escaped as a boy. Shobha Rao has given us clear-eyed stories of intense ruptures and unexpected connections, searing violence and genuine love.” 
Nalini Jones, author of What You Call Winter