Title: Good Indian Daughter
Author: Ruhi Lee
Publisher: Affirm Press
The Good Indian Daughter might look different from family to family — depending on class, caste, religion, location and other factors — one thing’s for sure: on and off screen, the ‘goodness’ of this archetype is rivalled only by its longevity.page 152
Ruhi Lee’s memoir Good Indian Daughter establishes the dichotomy between culture and perceived femininity early on and uses the juxtaposition of Australian and Indian cultural norms to demonstrate this difference. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, Lee writes: “This book is a personal, crafted memoir of my experience aspiring to the Good Indian Daughter ideal. I am aware that a certain image is conjured in the minds of many non-Indian people when they think of Indian women… I am not seeking to represent other brown women in this book. The way I have lived out the role… and then rejected it is different to the way other women have navigated this dynamic in our lives.”
Throughout the book this perspective becomes abundantly clear with the deeply personal nature of the anecdotal evidence provided by Lee to portray how she rejected the Good Indian Daughter ideal.
This memoir expertly combines humour with darker subject matter, delving into the impact that generational trauma and parental expectations can have on young Indian women growing up in modern Australia. Lee describes the pressure involved in maintaining the “good daughter” image and the ultimate cost of setting boundaries against loved ones. It’s a difficult yet important read, expressing experiences that are both unique to Lee’s own experience, but also universal in how some of them translate. For example, I found myself relating to aspects of her upbringing such as feeling ‘different’ at school. At one point in the story, she reflects on how all she wanted was Vegemite in her school sandwiches instead of the cheaper option, Promite, and I distinctly remember being embarrassed as a child at the fact my family could not afford the name brand products in most cases.
The strained bond between Lee and her father was also relatable, and the author’s characterisation of both her mother and father painted a vivid image of their personalities and flaws. We were given insight into her parents’ upbringing and the trauma they faced, which in turn informed their approach to parenting and discipline. It should be noted there is mention of sexual abuse, violence and emotional abuse throughout this book.
This memoir vividly encapsulates the experience of first generation Australian immigrants, weaving English and Kannada seamlessly together to tell a story that I feel many people, especially female-identifying immigrants, will find relatable in some way.
If you’re looking for a diverse, well-written and compelling memoir, I highly recommend you check out Ruhi Lee’s Good Indian Daughter.