The Book Of Bondmaids
Sold into servitude at age of four by her own mother and treated harshly by fellow bondmaids, Han forms a bond with Wu, who is the grandson of a head housemaid. Their friendship becomes doomed love when Wu moves to the United States, and Han find herself stuck with jealous bondmaids and Wu's relatives in Singapore. Both face additional trials until Han's death. The book ends when Wu and Han's son enters the household.
The Book of Bondmaids
To a certain degree, this is the problem which confronts the Westernized, tabloid-hardened reader of Catherine Lim's The Bondmaid, a novel which hits American bookstores this month. Lim, a best-selling author in Singapore for years, saw her latest manuscript rejected by every major publishing house at home before publishing it herself. Deemed objectionable and too "adult" by mainstream literary houses, the book promptly hit the top of Singapore's bestseller lists, leading to publication and distribution rights abroad.
Another dualism that Lim consistently manipulates is that which exists between the gods and goddesses of the Singaporean pantheon, and the mortals who supplicate to them. From the very beginning of the novel, the gods are denigrated and demonized by the poor women and bondmaids who have been victimized by their carelessness. Han's mother prays as a last resort before selling her daughter. But finally she is forced to realize that "Sky God has no eyes nor ears" for the helpless village women who "had cried to [him] from time immemorial" for relief from abusive husbands and yearly pregnancies. Han's own prayers that Wu will return her love are only answered when she constructs her own altar to an abandoned female idol she finds in the woods.
Even this goddess is but a representation of the greater, untapped power within Han herself: in the epilogue of the book the reader discovers that numerous miracles have taken place near the pond where Han saw her demise. As further proof of her immortality, in a tiny shack on the property, the Master Wu awaits the day when the "Goddess with Eyes and Ears" will return to him.
The Bondmaid is most certainly not light reading, with its thought-provoking discussion of immortality and its depiction of the extremes to which the poorest of the poor will venture in order to escape their misery. It is difficult to determine, however, whether the book remains in America as disturbing or as graphic as the publishers in Singapore predicted. This is partly because the marketing here has involved a removal from the original cultural context, without which the story is significantly less earth-shattering.
13All this the king heard from his retainer; and declared that he who could say such things had either more than mortal wisdom or more than mortal folly; in these few words fathoming the full depth of Amleth's penetration. Then he summoned the steward and asked him whence he had procured the bread. The steward declared that it had been made by the king's own baker. The king asked where the corn had grown of which it was made, and whether any sign was to be found there of human carnage? The other answered, that not far off was a field, covered with the ancient bones of slaughtered men, and still bearing plainly all the signs of ancient carnage; and that he had himself planted this field with grain in springtide, thinking it more fruitful than the rest, and hoping for plenteous abundance; and so, for aught he knew, the bread had caught some evil savour from this bloodshed. The king, on hearing this, surmised that Amleth had spoken truly, and took the pains to learn also what had been the source of the lard. The other declared that his hogs had, through negligence, strayed from keeping, and battened on the rotten carcase of a robber, and that perchance their pork had thus come to have something of a corrupt smack. The king, finding that Amleth's judgment was right in this thing also, asked of what liquor the steward had mixed the drink? Hearing that it had been brewed of water and meal, he had the spot of the spring pointed out to him, and set to digging deep down; and there he found, rusted away, several swords, the tang whereof it was thought had tainted the waters. Others relate that Amleth blamed the drink because, while quaffing it, he had detected some bees that had fed in the paunch of a dead man; and that the taint, which had formerly been imparted to the combs, had reappeared in the taste. The king, seeing that Amleth had rightly given the causes of the taste he had found so faulty, and learning that the ignoble eyes wherewith Amleth had reproached him concerned some stain upon his birth, had a secret interview with his mother, and asked her who his father had really been. She said she had submitted to no man but the king. But when he threatened that he would have the truth out of her by a trial, he was told that he was the offspring of a slave. By the evidence of the avowal thus extorted he understood the whole mystery of the reproach upon his origin. Abashed as he was with shame for his low estate, he was so ravished with the young man's cleverness, that he asked him why he had aspersed the queen with the reproach that she had demeaned herself like a slave? But while resenting that the courtliness of his wife had been accused in the midnight gossip of a guest, he found that her mother had been a bondmaid. For Amleth said he had noted in her three blemishes showing the demeanour of a slave; first, she had muffled her head in her mantle as bondmaids do; next, that she had gathered up her gown for walking; and thirdly, that she had first picked out with a splinter, and then, chewed up, the remnant of food that stuck in the crevices between her teeth. Further, he mentioned that the king's mother had been brought into slavery from captivity, lest she should seem servile only in her habits, yet not in her birth. 041b061a72