The Desirable Sister

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

This was such an amazing read that I couldn’t put it down. It went everywhere with me. To the doctors office, the dentist, the eye doctor. IT WENT ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE. I was so sad when it ended that I immediately went and bought more books from this author!
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a sneek peak at this wonderful story!  The Desirable Sister offers a look at the way prejudice plays out even within a particular race and across society as a whole.  Never over done, Taslim Burkowicz's realistic look at the antagonistic relationship between two sisters shows all too well how shades of color impact every area of our lives, even without us realizing it.   

Gia and Serena were so well written, that I felt sisterly towards them both and at times wanted to shake each one to knock some sense into her!  The story begins with echoes of what is to come when it introduces us to Gulshan and Zeenat (Gia and Serena's mother) who are also quite opposite in coloring and temperament.  

The novel examines the ways in which we are seen by others affecting the changes we make within ourselves in order to meet or defy the expectations of our appearance.  What I think is the saddest part of the story is that within these families the women withhold their secrets from one another.  A lack of communication truly separates us as much skin color and classist hierarchies.

Burkowicz's writing is engaging and vivid, painting details of cultures I've never been witness to in India, Africa, and Canada.  
This novel should be savored as an exploration of identity, sisterhood, and heritage.  4 stars
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I was looking forward to reading this book, but I was left disappointed. Although, the storyline is good, I had trouble relating to the characters. The dialogue felt forced and awkward at times and I struggled to finish it.
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A book about sisters, their rivalry, jealousy and love. Born in Canada, but OF Indian background, Gia and Serena are close in age but different in personalities.  Much of it is attributed to Gia’s whiteness as being valued more than Serena’s dark skin and the acceptances or rejections that stem from color.  An incident visiting their aunt in India changes Gia, and with those misunderstood changes, Serena and Gia losE the closeness they had as young children.  The book was well written, and the themes of the story well formed.  Recommended for those who like stories about different cultures.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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Ah, this book sounded so promising - almost exactly like an Indian-Canadian version of one of my favorite books of the year, Mrs. Everything. It started out strong, and was not bad up until the traumatic climax for one of the sisters, after which things really go off the rails. 

Gia and Serena lose their identities and don’t feel like individuals - and there is hardly any focus on characters other than the two sisters. You get flashes of each sister’s life spaced out every few years, but you don’t get to know them or understand them well enough to like or even empathize with their actions. I was left wanting more with every single chapter. 

The dialogue - oh boy - was the biggest reason struggled to finish this book. Everything is so stilted and unnatural - it sounded like Google Translate trying to emulate a human conversation. The book is supposed to be about relationships - both between the sisters and the sisters’ relationships with other people - but the dialogue makes it impossible to believe in or like any of these relationships. 

Overall, the concept of this book is great - the discrimination between light- and dark-skinned Indian woman is prominent and creates vast inequality. The generational differences in immigrant experiences and assimilation, as well as the struggles to fit into a culture in which you always feel like an outsider, are compelling topics that are touched upon in this book. But still, the execution was not good.
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In recent years, scientists have begun to research the role sibling relationships play on in shaping individual personalities, positing that the sibling relationship may be as strong, if not stronger, than the parental relationship in shaping who we are and how we behave. At the heart of Taslim Burkowicz’ novel The Desirable Sister, is the complicated and intricate connection between the Pirji sisters - Gia and Serena - and how that connection, both consciously and unconsciously, catalyzes the thoughts and actions of the sisters throughout their lives. 

From the time of their births, the die is cast – Gia, the oldest by less than a year, is fair skinned, the shining example of beauty for any Indian girl, while Serena is dark with a head of unruly curly hair, the mirror of her mother who suffered under her own self-conscious comparisons to her fair-skinned sister. The book follows the lives of the sisters through childhood to adulthood to a rather heartbreaking denouement. Gia is the free-spirited artist who spends a great deal of her adulthood meandering like a somnambulist through several iterations of men and art, and Serena is the reactionary hot-head who finds herself locked in a prison of her own making. I think Burkowicz did a wonderful job in creating the inner worlds of both Gia and Serena.  Equally, I think her the writing and the story was strongest when the sisters interacting with one another and/reacting to one another. I found a lot of truth in the way the Gia and Serena walked that fine line between wanting to show their best selves to one another and wanting to lay bare the darkest parts of their souls to one another. The deepest sadness of the book was that neither sister could ever be wholly true and open with one another and reveal the violence and heartbreak they had endured. I think this can be very true for many siblings. And, it points to the essential problem between Gia and Serena – they didn’t define themselves based on one another; rather they defined themselves based on what they perceived one another to be. 

As a whole, I thought the novel bit off a bit more than it could chew. There were a lot of characters that came in and out the story that I couldn’t determine the real value of their presence. I also felt a lot of threads that could have been interwoven throughout the story were just given up or lost, namely the relationship to their mother (and their identity as first generation immigrant children), and the relationship to the aunt living in Africa whom they visited as children (a visit that included one of the most important events of the book) and never heard from again. Finally, I am not entirely sure how I feel about the ending. It felt a little melodramatic upon first read, but also led to a touching conclusion. Again, it felt a little too big for the story as a whole. 

At the end of the day, I found myself wanting to pick up the book and touch base with Gia and Serena. I wanted to see where their lives were going. And, that is the essence of story telling – wanting more. I look forward to what this author does in the future.
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The book is very different from its description. It actually entails a story more advanced than what the blurb reads.

A story about the lives of two Indo-Canadian sisters set worlds apart due to colourism, which produces sibling rivalry.

The plotline developed very unpredictably, even up until the climax, which will throw you off course. I feel the story digressed from the main plot quite a bit. Overall, it is a good book and a fast read.
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The Desirable Sister is beautifully written. 

Two sisters from one family with one difference; the colour of their skin. This story follows Gia and Serena's journey through life each with their own struggles.

Gia, the white sister who is considered more beautiful struggles to relate to her own family and desperately clutches to her heritage to prove her Indian background. Serena, who is brown, desperately lives in the shadow of Gia who, in her own eyes, she considers more beautiful, and is envious of her sisters ability to fit into white Canadian culture.

Not having a sister I found this a frustrating read - why can't they sit down to talk, acknowledge, understand and embrace their differences? But knowing family is never that simple keeps this read interesting.
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Gia and Serena Pirji are sisters, but as the first-generation born in Canada to immigrant parents, their lives play out in different ways because of their skin tone. Gia's fair skin grants her membership to cliques of white kids as a teen, while Serena's dark skin means she is labelled as Indian and treated as inferior. This superficial difference, imposed by a society obsessed with skin colour and hierarchy, sets the sisters into a dynamic that plays out throughout their lives. In a world where white skin is preferable, the sisters are pitted against each other through acts of revenge and competition as they experience adultery, ruined friendships, domestic abuse, infertility and motherhood.

This book had so much potential. Two sisters bonded by blood and yet alienated by the colour of their skin. I was very curious to see how the story would pan out for the two sisters.
The book starts with the girls' parents and a little peek into how their father chose his dark-skinned wife despite having come to see her elder fair-skinned sister. I instantly liked how the book started and was immediately invested in the story until I wasn't which did not take that long, unfortunately. I kept waiting for something more, something deeper, something different to happen but it did not. The story continued with the same theme of skin colour of the two girls however as characters they did not seem to evolve despite all that happens to them. That was disappointing. 

Apart from that, there were loopholes where certain characters who randomly appear only to not be heard from again including the girls' parents and extended family. 

The synopsis of the book promises way more than what the book delivers. 
I wish this could have been a better read for me. Maybe it will work for others.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a digital ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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What drew me to this book was the concept of two women of color – sisters from the same cultural background, who went to the same schools, and lived in the same neighborhood – who experience life so differently because of the shade of their skin. Burkowicz shows how much these women’s personalities, thought processes, and decisions are a response to society’s repeated reaction to their appearance. What impacted me most was how deeply Serena’s decisions were motivated by a self-hatred that had been nurtured since birth by family and community alike, owing simply to her skin tone. The book is beautifully written with vivid descriptions. The characters are well-developed, and I loved how Burkowicz switched between Gia and Serena’s perspectives and played with time by hinting at major events, then coming back later to explain them in more detail. This is a beautiful story wrapped in concepts that urgently need to be explored.
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My interest was piqued by the premise of this book – two sisters with about a year’s difference in age, brought up in the same cultural and social background, both described as beautiful but with one difference: the colour of their skin.  Part of an Indian family living in Canada, Gia is white and Serene is brown.  From the outset Serene was considered less because of her skin colour even by her mother, but certainly by the extended Indian community.  So Serene grows up acutely aware of this difference and of the fact that Gia does not always support her sister when she is exposed to racism.  It is the ideal set-up for a scientific experiment, is it nature or nuture?

I come from a large family and my nearest sibling is two years older than me.  Although very close I was very aware of the huge differences in our characters and that is why I found this book so compelling.  There was plenty to love about both girls and equally plenty to be disappointed with in both.  I longed for Serene to stop feeling sorry for herself and to realise how much she had to offer: similarly I ached for Gia to understand how her sister felt and to try and strengthen their relationship.  Just talk and try to understand, went through my mind a hundred times.

Beautifully written, especially lyrical when talking about the glories of Indian cuisine.  My favourite parts – those describing Gia’s fascination with the sari fabrics, the colour and exuberance and her designs and the excitement that is Indian culture.  A truly exotic feast in more ways than one.

Thank you to the author, publishers and NetGalley for providing an ARC via my Kindle in return for an honest review.
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A HARD 3.5...great story...need more


I read The Desirable Sister (courtesy of an ARC) about three or four weeks ago on a lazy Saturday, but held out on writing a review until now. There were things about both sisters (in each generation) that I adored and hated. I don't know how many times I screamed in my head: JUST TELL HER WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, MOM; TELL YOUR DAUGHTERS ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD(S) AND HOW IT AFFECTED YOU!! For any of the Indian women representing different generations in this novel, my wish was for them to avoid turning into the things and people that they found unpleasing, insulting, and unsatisfactory during their upbringings. But it's hard go against (and deconstruct) parents' hopes and wishes, (mis)guided rules and instruction ingrained from the terrible twos through the impressionable teen wonder years.

WARNING!!! This is not the book to read on an empty stomach. I guess they forgot to send me the bonus cookbook (great idea) that instructs us how to make authentic Indian dishes and treats, which were so deliciously described (and eaten) throughout the novel. I can wait though. The author really did build a world that readers could sink their teeth in. I must find me a local spot that serves Indian that delivers, of course.

On a more serious note... There is an inequitable and inevitable price many adult children pay for how we are raised by our parents (or guardians); how well our evolving physical and mental traits and individual interests are nurtured or ignored; how we are protected or abandoned by the community of people and places that our childhood selves witness in daily interactions and communications that cement the ethnic cultures surrounding us; and the moments in time that we are affirmed by said culture, fully or partially, as we cautiously make our way outside our cultural norms, known communities, and parental guidance onto the stage of life, or adulting, as coined by the millennial generation. 

I was satisfied with The Desirable Sister as a standalone novel; however, I would bet a plate of lightly crunchy hot samosas that many pages were left out with more of the familial backstories and conflicts; enough to continue the story lines of each generation in a series. I would love to read the prequel, exploring the lives of the grandmothers (or the first set of sisters that we meet). In addition, I couldn't help but notice the advanced timelines between the chapters, which could easily be filled in with adventures and mishaps of the second generation of sisters. And of course, readers want to know how the family fared in life, after such a tragic loss.

This book held a few first for me: first time reading this author (and I hope to read more); first time reading a book highlighting Indian family life and culture; and, first time reading a book highlighting the deliberate ugliness and subtle nuisances of (discrimination by) colorism within the families of women of color beyond the lens of my black American experience.

For those who read the book, in the first and second generation of siblings, which sister would you label the "desirable" one? 

#ARC #AdvancedReadingCopy #literaryfiction #RosePublishing #familydisfunction #inlaws #immigrants #womenofcolor #colorism #comingofage #arrangedmarriages #Indiancusisine #spicesx10 #siblingrivalry #TheDesirableSister #NetGalley #02Nov2019
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I would love to write a more comprehensive review on my blog  or have Q&A with the author! Her book delves into similar issues as mine. 


** spoiler alert ** As a person that oscillates between cultures myself, I was intrigue by the premise and plot. Although I truly enjoyed the issues that the book brought up for discussion (culture/tradition, colorism, sexism, healthy relationships, generational trauma, colonization, etc. Although it was understood that the story's point is to illustrate the harmful effects of colorism and the scars that linger into adulthood, some parts of the story were unsatisfying.

Things that Bothered Me

For example, Serena never learned about Kabir raping Gia or the affair Kabir had with her aunt, and they were estranged for years because Serena believed that Gia thought she was superior. However, Gia never felt that way and the only one that had a complex about it was Serena, ie. meaning that she was the one that actually thought her sister was superior (because of her skin tone). And ironically, she made herself and her sister suffer for that. And Serena was the one that did harmful things to her sister, thinking it was the other way around. And their parents kinda of disappeared. People popped up in this novel quite randomly...? I mean they get shipped to their aunt in Uganda, but then never see her again? Despite the fact that she is uber rich with a gay husband? And did anyone ever find that Danny's mom Serene's painting in the closet? :) I was waiting for Kabir to get a comeuppance!

What I Loved
This was a story about sisters ultimately. There were men, but it was truly about the relationship between the women and the one that they had with themselves. Which perhaps could explain the rapid departures of some of the characters. The issues that were highlighted were extremely important! In addition, since I'm a several culture kid, I identified a lot with some of the struggles. I also felt like the infertility part was handled well (no magical, miracle pregnancy), simply finding another way of being a mother. And ultimately, the book was well written and the female characters were thick, juicy, flawed, and real. 

The Desirable Sister is a good read, especially for those of us that have identity issues or are in the search for belonging. It explores that in between place -- who your parents raised you to be, who you think you are, who you want to be, and the reality of yourself. I would definitely read more of Taslim's work. The issues I have with the novel are only because I came to care about the characters so much, which is a great thing! It is literary fiction, so the action is a bit more nuanced. However, it is an enjoyable read that raises many important questions about identity and sisterhood.
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This book has a lot to say about racism and coloring and also about rivalry between siblings.  The two sisters, Gia and Serena are close but look totally different.  Serena is dark skinned while Gia is very light.  They live in Canada but they are Indian.  Serena never feels she measured up  and throughout her life she lacks self esteem and doesn't find happiness until she married and unfortunately that is short lived.  Gia is pretty unhappy in most of her life too until she also gets married.  I didn't like the ending of the story and I felt there were a lot of situations that were not necessarily needed,however I feel this is a good. book and I highly recommend it.
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I really liked the overall story in this book.  It is a great concept.  Two sisters, raised basically the same way, but how their lives are so different.  Is it because of their skin color differences?  Is it because of being looked at differently throughout their lives?  Did that cause insecurities?  This is a great topic to really explore.
I generally liked the book.  I did feel that at times there was too much explanation of details, such as locations where they were-decor and landscape.  There were times I felt sorry for one sister, then later, the other sister.  It's sad that it seems they were at odds most of their lives, unable to ever truly understand each other. 
Serena seemed so lonely for much of the book, then she found herself and was so self confident at one point in her life and after her marriage, she seemed to crumble.  I wish she could have found some of that self confidence again to stand up to her husband sooner. 
Gia, while seemingly the "desirable sister" based on her skin tone, seemed lost most of her life.  Wandering and searching for something...never truly happy, until she met Jeremy. Life changes quickly and forever for Gia and Jeremy.  Sadness but happiness fills their lives. Gia begins to understand what the different color of skin can look like to the outside world.

Since I did not give this book 5 stars, I am only posting the review here.
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I really liked the story line and the plot - a unique story about racism and the long-term impacts of skin color that can permeate relationships of all kinds. Set in Canada, this is the story of two generations of Indian sisters with different skin tones and the impact this has on their relationship with each other and with others. As an English teacher, I found the writing was too linear and one-dimensional. For example, the prologue was far too long. All of the content in the prologue was important to story development but could have been layered into the story with flashback, dialogue, and narration.

Thank you Roseway Publishing and Fernwood Publishing for the opportunity to read and review this advanced copy.
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This book, unfortunately, did not tickle my fancy. I may give it another try in the future, but as for right now, I just couldn't get into it. If a book does not grab my attention from the 1st page it's highly likely that I won't be able to make it through the book.
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Color's often played a bigger in access to social privileges all over the world. It's even birthed the terms "racist" and "racism." However, in reading this book, what's guaranteed is a tale of love, family, prejudice, and most of all a struggle to build self-esteem in young children. Gia and Serena's relationship is at the center of this, and what appealed to me most was how the author used culture to express this self-image theme in a family that's been in more than one continent struggling to belong. This preference of fair skin over dark skin is seen from their mother's generation and into their's with the difference being, in their generation-technology and laws have created more avenues for young people to speak up and challenge these matters.
Thanks Netgalley for the eARC. I love this book, it'd be great having it in my library for my family.
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This book is one that will push readers to rethink their perceptions of beauty, as sisters Gia and Serena see their lives unfold in vastly different ways because of the prejudice that colors their lives because Gia's fair skin allows her to "pass" as white while Serena's darker skin places her as an outsider. It's an exposition of the toxicity of colorism and the struggles of immigrants. Burkowicz's beautiful writing brings life to these characters as they navigate the jealousy that comes with societal affirmation and ostracism along with the bonds of sisterly love. 

“Presented like a kaleidoscopic tapestry, we watch with fascination as Gia and Serena come of age and emerge from the grip of race and colour to become independent young women. Taslim Burkowicz is a masterful storyteller of intimate details that are surprising and sometimes shocking.”

-Simon Choa-Johnston, author of The House of Wives

Taslim Burkowicz's work is inspired both by her Indo-Canadian heritage, as well as her global travels and experiences. Her first novel, Chocolate Cherry Chai, was listed on CBC Books' 2017 Fall Preview list. She has a bachelor's degree in political science and education from Simon Fraser University. Taslim resides with her husband and three boys in Surrey, B.C., where she focuses on writing, running and dancing.
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