Abusive truth behind the marriages
Barbara Spindel examines the widespread nature of domestic violence in Trinidad, where it has traditionally been considered a private family matter depictedby the author
"I think of my grandparents as one coiling length of rope," writes Krystal Sital in her wrenching new memoir, Secrets We Kept. "She the rope unfurling for infinity, and he all the kinks and knots." Sital's debut opens in 2006, when her grandmother, Rebecca, discovers her husband, Shiva, unconscious in their New Jersey apartment following a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
When Sital learns from her mother, Arya, that Rebecca hesitated before summoning help for her partner of more than 50 years, the author is compelled to uncover the truth of her grandparents' marriage. She learns that the women in her family have been victims of violent abuse stretching back generations in their native Trinidad.
Sital's raw and intimate book alternates between the stories of her grandmother and her mother. Central to both their lives is Shiva, a wealthy Hindu landowner beloved by the author, who has to reconcile her memories of her affectionate, indulgent grandparent with the discovery of the savage treatment he inflicted on his wife and children. Rebecca, who was beaten by her father, trades in one abusive situation for another when she meets Shiva, a pattern later echoed by her daughter.
It's an alarming indication of how widespread domestic violence is in Trinidad, where it has traditionally been considered a private family matter, not an issue of public interest. Rebecca surely didn't believe she had many better options than staying with Shiva. In addition to being rigidly patriarchal, the Trinidad Sital vividly evokes is rigidly divided by class and race. While Shiva is a wealthy Indian, Rebecca is impoverished and mixed-race - half-Indian and half-Venezuelan - making her the target of prejudice and ridicule.
These revelations affect Sital profoundly. As the book's subtitle, "Three Women of Trinidad," suggests, the author allies herself with her mother and her grandmother, and "Secrets We Kept" is suffused with a fierce compassion for them. Her feelings for the family patriarchs cannot help but be forever altered. "As I learn about the men in my life - my father, my grandfather - men I've been enamored with and admired, they take on dimensions I've never imagined." They are, she writes, "fathers, yes. But also husbands. Perpetrators."
When Shiva is set to be released from the hospital, Rebecca makes plans to place him in a nursing home. Despite the fact that Shiva terrorized all of his children, and despite the fact that they were witnesses to his terrorizing of Rebecca, these adult children now unite to insist that their mother care for their incapacitated father at home instead. The cultural norms are inviolable; like cooking, this is simply what wives do. Only when Shiva dies four years later is Rebecca finally free. (excerpt)
The reviewer is a senior contributor.The write-up has appeared on www.csmonitor.com