The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India

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9780679415770: The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India

A spellbinding book--part travelogue, part history--about eunuchs in India today. They are both reviled and accepted, not officially acknowledged but a constant topic of conversation, believed to bring good luck to newlyweds and newborns but accused of prostitution and pederasty. (NIA)

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Review:

Zia Jaffrey, daughter of the well-known Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey and heir to a hybrid Indian-American culture, found herself fascinated on a visit to India by a separate and extraordinary caste--the hijras, or eunuchs, castrati who dress as women and live together. Empathizing with their sense of otherness, she pursued the story of their semi-secret existence. The hijras have a long tradition in India, yet are regarded with great ambiguity. On the one hand they are invited to attend weddings and births and thought to bring good luck despite their crude behavior, bawdy jokes, and bad singing. On the other hand, there is much fearful speculation as to how they perpetuate their caste--some allege the abduction and castration of little boys. Jaffrey sensitively investigates these mysteries.

From Booklist:

Jaffrey, who lived in India for much of her childhood, had no intention of researching the borderline world of eunuchs when she returned to India to see family and study ancient philosophy, but somehow her ambiguous status as an insider-become-outsider and the unsettling sight of a group of raucously singing eunuchs at a wedding led her to conduct the singular quest chronicled in this captivating book. With the surprising (given the taboo nature of the subject) help of family members, Jaffrey meets with eunuchs, or hijras, in various locales and slowly begins to fathom their strange but invaluable place in society. In a dramatic mix of oral history and scholarship, she reveals the origins, protocol, rituals, and cultural significance of the eunuch community, tracking their long, complex history and intimate ties to royal court life and the caste system. Jaffrey gets right to the soul of this peculiar but enduring mirror-image society and sensitively conveys its inherent dualism: its union of pain and eroticism, secretiveness and conspicuousness, infamy and acceptance, pride and pragmatism. Donna Seaman

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