Recognizing and resolving these incoherencies eventually enabled her to leave her husband, resist the outrage of her family, and distance herself from the women’s groups that sought her non-white presence on their boards as ideological cover. She remarried, completed a Master’s thesis, and became a tough-minded advocate of gender equality and freedom.
Like most real-life stories, Aruna’s is not a seamless narrative of progress from darkness into light, and she and her co-author have resisted the temptation to smooth over her own faults and failures, including her guilt at neglecting her children and the anti-Semitism that was a reflex part of her beliefs before she immigrated. The result is that the reader of Unworthy Creature believes in Aruna and appreciates her humor, self-irony, and savvy. After years of being told she was “unworthy” and stupid, she has clearly relished the chance to step forward as an authority on her life and culture.
For this she has faced the predictable criticism: from members of her own community embarrassed by her frankness, and by white liberals shocked by her apostasy. As Kay and Papp make clear in the discussions that frame Aruna’s story, official silence about honor-based misogyny has made it difficult to address openly the cultural norms that led to the deaths of such women as Aqsa Parvez in greater Toronto and the Shafia girls and their stepmother in Kingston, Ontario, all of whom were killed to save their families from embarrassment. Papp has made it the project of her later life to end media squeamishness about honor violence and to convince people “that it is not racist to admit that some harmful social behaviours are rooted in cultural traditions.”
This is no small task. We live in a culture in which fear of offending and the desire to appear tolerant are dominant values, and in which books such as this one tell a discomfiting story for media and political elites. One can only hope that such a shocking and well-crafted account, which Barbara Kay in her characteristically limpid prose has rendered both readable and compelling, will play a part in the turning of the tide.
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