Why I wrote My Beautiful Shadowby Radhika Jha
Much as I would love to be famous and have many people read my books, this has never been my motivation to write, and it certainly was not the impetus behind my novel My Beautiful Shadow.
At the time of writing the novel, I was petrified: what did I think I was doing putting myself in the skin of a Japanese woman like Kayo? But I was haunted by a dream that I had one night in Tokyo: a Japanese woman in her little house, looking at a car departing down a driveway. It is snowing hard. The woman is alone in the house but she knows that the people in the car don’t know that she is not inside with them. They assume she is there, her absence unnoticed. She has become invisible.
Looking at it now, three and a half years after I finished the first draft, I can see a little more clearly what I have achieved in my book. My Beautiful Shadow touches an essential part of the malaise of being born a woman in the modern world. In some ways feminism has drawn a veil over the internal struggles we face; it will not admit weakness and we are not supposed to talk about our fragile sense of self-worth. With Wonder Woman dominating the box office, we are all supposed to be Amazons.
The only Amazon I know is 9 years old, and she is my daughter. When I asked her to describe herself she said, “I’m fearless, curious, creative.” That’s my daughter, the Amazon. But fear comes in many forms and at different ages. In my 11 year old son’s class the girls are already different. Some are experimenting with being glamorous, others are shy or timorous (or both) and hold back from raising their hands and shouting “Me, me, I know. Let me answer, teacher.” Perhaps they doubt they have what it takes to succeed in the adult world. Perhaps they compare themselves with the pretty ones and feel a gap, a hole that needs to be filled somehow. Having hit middle age in an era of “free women”, it makes me very sad to see that actually very little has changed for women with regard to men’s attitudes toward them, and to the fact that women still wait for someone else to put a value on them.
There is not much you can do, even as a mother, against hormones. When my daughter changes it will break my heart. But maybe one day she will pick up a dusty copy of My Beautiful Shadow and hopefully it will speak to her. I guess I wrote this book about Kayo and her life in Japan because I still believe that reading a book, even when it is about a place you have never been or about people whose names you cannot pronounce, can change your life.